Little is known about the prehistory of this small landlocked country, isolated by its geography and yet strongly linked to events occurring within in its more powerful neighbors. As elsewhere in what would become known as the Indochina peninsula, although early hominids (Homo erectus) stray into and through the land (Homo erectus remains and a chopper tool said to date to 500,000 B.C. are reported), there are no solid traces of occupation until Homo sapiens settles down—in Laos, about 10,000 B.C. The first inhabitants of Laos may be the ancestors of some of the tribal groups that still inhabit the remote mountains in the twentieth century; long disparagingly called Kha (slaves) by other Lao people, they are now more formally known as Lao Theung (Lao of the mountainsides). During the ensuing millennia, several waves of people will make their way into Laos, all—except for the occasional few from India—of Mongoloid extraction. These residents of Laos share a fairly common culture with many people living throughout Southeast Asia and southern and central China—conducting a basic subsistence economy but gradually diversifying their food sources and toolkit as they pass through the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages. Through these many millennia, the people living in Laos tend to be recipients of and reactors to more advanced cultures in the lands around them. Not until the first millennium A.D. do Tai people begin to move into the land to be known as Laos, but Laos continues to be exposed to its more dynamic neighbors, particularly Thailand and Cambodia. Contributing to this lack of a cohesiveness is the fact that Laos is divided into a number of small city-states or principalities (known as muang), often at war with one another. Not until the fourteenth century will there begin the long process of unification that will eventually lead to modern Laos.
10,000–3000B.C.: Scattered throughout parts of Laos are small groups of hunters-gatherers who appear to share the Hoabinhian culture first found in Vietnam. This is characterized by the tools made of river pebbles, flaked usually on only one side in Laos.
3000–1500B.C.: People in what is now Laos begin to adopt the Neolithic culture that in-