Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

Prehistoric copper mining in the context of emerging community craft specialization in northeast Thailand

Vincent C. Pigott

ABSTRACT

Early in the second millennium BC the production of copper and bronze began in Southeast Asia. Excavations conducted by the Thailand Archaeometallurgy Project (TAP) revealed a major prehistoric copper mining complex located at Phu Lon on the Mekong River in northeast Thailand. The first portion of the discussion treats resource procurement and copper/bronze production at the site. It is proposed that by means of ‘mining expeditions’ —possibly akin to the model of recent stone procurement strategies for ax manufacturing by the Tungei of highland New Guinea—prehistoric peoples extracted sufficient amounts of copper ore and/or smelted ore to ingots and transported these products downstream or overland to consumer villages located in the Sakon Nakhon Basin on the Khorat Plateau. Next, a series of questions are posed to ascertain whether the considerable effort expended to extract such a resource reflected the presence of a central authority which controlled access to and distribution of mined resources. The discussion concludes with the application to the Phu Lon-Sakon Nakhon Basin interaction sphere of Andrew Sherratt’s multizoned model for the structure of material production and distribution channels.


INTRODUCTION

Finds of metal artifacts in copper and bronze from archaeological sites in Southeast Asia have been a commonplace as long as sites have been excavated. However, the revelations in the mid-1970s of bronze in the prehistoric village of Ban Chiang in northeast Thailand put Southeast Asia on the map as an Old World culture area with its own unique metalworking traditions (Gorman and Charoenwongsa 1976; White 1982, 1986, 1988, 1997). The ensuing discussion concerning the origins and development of copper/bronze metallurgy in Southeast Asia has resulted in important advances since the initial recognition that this area was relevant to the topic of Old World metallurgical development, not least White’s (1988:179) characterization of a ‘Southeast Asian metallurgical province’ (on this term, see Chernykh 1980). Distinct from other

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