Discovery from Bau Du: a 5,500-year-old archaeological site in Central Vietnam

09/11/2017

In 1983 in the Quang Nam Province of Central Vietnam, archaeologists uncovered the remains of an ancient hunter-gatherer site, dating about 5,000 years old and known at the Bau Du site. Excavations then proceeded in 1983, 1984, 2014, and most recently in March 2017, aiming to learn about the life of ancient people at Bau Du.

The 2017 study has been successfully as an international collaboration, bringing together experts from the Center for Archaeological Studies (Southern Institute of Social Sciences, Vietnam), Quang Nam Museum (Department of Culture, Sport, and Tourism of Quang Nam), Sapporo Medical University in Japan, and the Australian National University. Following from this work, the team has been examining the details of the artifacts and other findings at the Quang Nam Museum, and significant new ideas have developed, for example as the team discussed in a meeting of September 2017, assembling the scholars including Nguyen Khanh Trung Kien (Team leader), Prof. Hirofumi Matsumura (Sapporo Medical University), Dr. Nguyen Kim Dung (Vietnam Association of Archaeology), Dr. Hsiao-chun Hung (Australian National University), and other members of the team (Dang Ngoc Kinh, Nguyen Hoang Bach Linh and Nguyen Thi Nga).

The research team is pleased to share initial conclusions:

1. At 5,500 years ago, the people of Bau Du lived on the surface of an ancient sand dune, close to the shoreline of this time. Since then, the setting has undergone major change in the level of water, shape of landforms, and potential for how people could live there.

2. The ancient people at Bau Du lived as hunter-gatherers, relying on the sea as well as the forest. The March 2017 excavation confirmed the traces of dense middens of shellfish debris, especially scallop shells. Among the heaps of scallop shells, people had discarded other materials, thus creating layers of ash, mollusk shells, fish bones, and numerous animal bones (Fig. 1). Studies are continuing for identifying the exact species that were represented in the fish, shellfish, and animal foods.

3. The inventory of artifacts included stone chopping tools, flaked tools, short-axes, grinding stones, and pestles (Fig. 2 and 3). Moreover, large amounts of hematite have been found from this site. Many of those pestles retained traces of red ochre or hematite powder, related with preparing red-colored pigments.

4. The March 2017 excavation revealed six human skeletons, all buried in flexed position and placed inside pits. The pits had been dug downward through the scallop shell midden. It’s likely that the deceased individuals had been treated with red coloring, apparently from powder of red ochre or hematite, similar to the material found on the stone pestles. According to the condition and positioning of the individual bone elements, at least some of those deceased individuals had been moved at one time, and then eventually they were placed into their final burial pits.

The research team currently is working to complete its studies and to develop a formal publication of a glimpse into the life of hunter-gatherers at Bau Du 5,500 years ago. Forthcoming results are expected in regards to the stone tools, fish and animal bones, shellfish remains, traits of the ancient skeletons, high-precision dating, and comparisons with sites of other regions.

Fig. 1

Fig.2

 

Fig.3

 

 

Nguyen Khanh Trung Kien

 

 

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