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Vulcan: Skilled village craftsman of Ban Chiang, Thailand

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Ban Chiang ( ) is an extensively studied archeological site in Northeast Thailand, Udon Thani Province, which became a UNESCO world heritage in 1992. Depending on their production period ceramic artefacts show characteristic patterns at the surface which may be interpreted as iconographic motifs for the site. Two ceramic samples, excavated in 2003, from different periods were re-investigated, previously studied by Tanthanuch W., Pattanasiriwisawa W., Somphon W., Srilomsak S. Synchrotron studies of Ban Chiang ancient pottery. Suranaree J. Sci Technol. 2011, 18, 15–28 who focussed on thermal firing and redox-conditions. Shards selected for this study were sample 5412-S6E15 dated from Bronze Age (ca. 1000–300 BC) with yellow-brown, paint-free surface and a younger sample 8027 from Iron Age (ca. 300 BC–200 AD) with red painted design carrying pictorial patterns typical for the Ban Chiang ceramics. The surface material and colour of both shards was studied in detail using optical reflectance, FTIR spectroscopy and X-ray powder diffraction. Thin sections were used to determine the thickness of the red paint and the elemental composition of the surface using an electron microprobe. Chemical composition of sample 5412-S6E15 consists as oxides of elements mainly of SiO 2 and Al 2 O 3 (representing ca. 59 and 20 wt. %) and that of the red colour of the youngest sample 8027 consists mainly of SiO 2 , Al 2 O 3 and Fe 2 O 3 (representing ca. 52, 13 and 13 wt. %), the average composition adjacent to the red painted area has ca. 72 wt. % SiO 2 , ca. 10 wt. % Al 2 O 3 and only 2 wt. % Fe 2 O 3 . X-ray powder diffraction, FTIR spectroscopy and optical reflectance measurements confirm hematite in the mineralogical composition of the red pigment of shard 8027.
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In this talk, I briefly discuss how I became involved with Ban Chiang and what we have learned, in the decades since, from our studies of the approximately 142 human skeletons (2100 B.C. - 200 A.D.) excavated in 1974 and 1975 by the Thai Fine Arts Department and University of Pennsylvania. Specifically, I discuss what we know about health, diet, life span, and lifestyle of some of the earliest inhabitants of Northeast Thailand, people who were in the transition from hunting and gathering lifestyle to one that increasingly relied on agriculture. I also discuss some of what we have learned about the biological relationships of the ancient inhabitants of Ban Chiang. Then, I will mention one particular burial from these excavations, BC Burial 23, given the nickname, “Vulcan”. My talk will end with on-going research and plans to repatriate the Ban Chiang skeletons to Thailand. Much of the information discussed in this talk derives from our monograph on the human skeletons from Ban Chiang published by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in 2002 and other publications by me, Michele Toomay Douglas, and others over the years. In addition to the systematic recording of thousands of measurements and nonmetric observations and detailed descriptions of paleopathology, there have been more specialized chemical analysis of bone and teeth from Ban Chiang including isotope analysis and, most recently, attempts to obtain ancient DNA from these skeletons. The results of an examination of a number of indicators of health (e.g., life expectancy, adult stature, linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), cribra orbitalia (CO), trauma, infectious disease, and dental pathology) indicate that Ban Chiang/Southeast Asia does not follow the general global decline in health with increased sedentism and/or the adoption and intensification of agriculture. Some possible reasons for this are discussed in the talk. In addition to unusually good health, our studies also found no evidence for skeletal trauma from warfare and little evidence for interpersonal violence. These studies further suggest that individuals of both sexes led strenuous lives at Ban Chiang. Analyses of stable isotopes indicate evidence for temporal changes and gender differences in diet and support for a matrilocal residence pattern. In addition to skeletal evidence for genetic affiliations within the spatial groups at Ban Chiang, the results of applying multivariate statistical procedures to cranial measurements support models of local continuity in the late lithic to Neolithic/Bronze Age of mainland Southeast Asia. These studies also indicate major differences between the inhabitants of Khok Phanom Di, a site in south central Thailand, and Ban Chiang. Broader biodistance analysis indicates connections between prehistoric and modern inhabitants of Southeast Asia, suggestive of long-term continuity rather than models that argue for intrusion and displacement. Special mention is given to one of the Early Period burials from the 1974 excavations at Ban Chiang, nicknamed “Vulcan” after the Roman god of fire and metalworking. Osteological examination indicates this individual was a 45-50 year old male at the time of his death. Further features of his skeleton, including his relatively tall stature, are consistent with the designation as a skilled village craftsman and hunter who married into the community. It has been a privilege to serve as the sole curator of the skeletons from the 1974 and 1975 excavations at Ban Chiang, which has meant that new studies, such as the DNA studies now in progress, could be undertaken allowing new research questions to be addressed. Currently, the skeletons for the 1974 and 1975 excavations at Ban Chiang, which are currently curated at the University of Hawaii, are being prepared for repatriation to Thailand. It is hoped that additional research on these remains will continue to uncover new information about the prehistoric people of Thailand and Southeast Asia.
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The duality of the skeleton as both a biological and cultural entity has formed the theoretical basis of bioarchaeology. In recent years bioarchaeological studies have stretched the early biocultural concept with the adoption of life course approaches in their study design and analyses, making a significant contribution to how we think about the role of postnatal plasticity. Life course theory is a conceptual framework used in several scientific fields of biology and the social sciences. Studies that emphasize life course approaches in the examination of bone morphology in the past are united in their interrogation of human life as a result of interrelated and cumulative events over not only the timeframe of individuals, but also over generations at the community level. This article provides an overview of the theoretical constructs that utilize the life course concept, and a discussion of the different ways these theories have been applied to thinking about trajectories of bone morphology in the past, specifically highlighting key recent studies that have used life course approaches to understand the influence of growth, stress, diet, activity, and aging on the skeleton. The goal of this article is to demonstrate the scope of contemporary bioarchaeological studies that illuminate the importance of environmental and behavioral influence on bone morphology. Understanding how trajectories of bone growth and morphology can be altered and shaped over the life course is critical not only for bioarchaeologists, but also researchers studying bone morphology in living nonhuman primates and fossil primate skeletons. Am J Phys Anthropol 159:S130-S149, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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As archeological research in mainland Southeast Asia progresses beyond the pioneering stage, the emerging data pose a number of challenges to theories of socio-political development. Attempts to apply models assuming nested, conical, hierarchical progressions derivative from the band-tribe-chiefdom-state continuum often seem inadequate and somehow unable to account for the significant socio-political dynamics that are increasingly evident from the data. This chapter proposes that a shift in modeling the region's socio-political trajectory away from a stepprogression, hierarchical approach toward a dynamic, heterarchical approach will advance understanding of this region's distinctive social development and will contribute to broadening and refining theory on the formation of states and the development of social complexity.
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Reconstruction of the environmental history of mainland Southeast Asia from the late Pleistocene is a relatively recent endeavor. Beginning in the mid-1990s, lacustrine sediments in Thailand with deposits dating from the late Pleistocene have been cored and analyzed for palaeoenvironmental indicators. The three cores reported here were extracted by the Thailand Palaeoenvironment Project, whose objective was to retrieve empirical data on vegetation and sedimentary sequences that can in turn be related to the growing archaeological record from this part of monsoonal Asia. This evidence, along with data from other recently analyzed cores, is beginning to develop a picture of regionally diverse environmental/cultural trajectories. Possible relationships between the environmental changes and cultural and/or climatic impacts are discussed.
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Multivariate procedures are applied to metrical and non-metrical data recorded on early metal age crania from Ban Chiang, Northeast Thailand, for a comparison with prehistoric and more modern samples from Southeast Asia, Mainland East Asia, and the Pacific. While craniometric analyses (Mahalanobis' D2 and stepwise discriminant function analysis) fail to show any associations between Ban Chiang and the remaining samples, distances based on the percentage frequencies of discrete traits of the skull suggest a relatively close relationship between Ban Chiang and two other prehistoric samples from Southeast Asia. Slightly different results were obtained when a recently suggested (Green & Suchey, 1976) modification of Berry & Berry (1967) distance statistic was applied to these non-metrical data. Because of the limited size of the present sample and the different results obtained when discrete traits and cranial measurements are used, the continued use of metrical and non-metrical kinds of data is recommended.
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Ethnoecological research in northeast Thailand suggests that both wedand and upland rice cultivation emerged from a common beginning in manipulation of wild rice in seasonal swamps. The field research revealed extensive variants of wedand rice cultivation that show how it can be viewed as mimicking wild rice ecology and hence as an extension of rice's natural environment. This picture contrasts with the traditional portrayal of wedand rice cultivation as necessarily labor intensive, technologically advanced, and environmentally transformative. Upland cultivation of rice would have emerged as rice was grown in increasingly dry locales, necessitating genetic and physiological adaptations in nutrient absorption and timing of maturity. It is hypothesized that upland rice was then integrated into a preexisting swidden cultivation strategy. Furthermore, it is suggested that the early subsistence strategies of northeast Thailand included cultivation of wedand rice in permanent fields using extensive strategies, cultivation of uplands (of species yet to be determined) probably using shifting field strategies, as well as collection of diverse wild resources. KEYWORDS: rice, agriculture, swiddening, Ban Chiang cultural tradition, ethnoecology, Thailand.
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Stable isotopes in teeth are providing important correlations between ancient people and the geographical location of their childhood homes. In an exciting new application, the authors measured the varying signatures of strontium, oxygen and carbon isotopes in the teeth of a sequence of people buried in Thailand during the period of the introduction and intensification of agriculture. Preliminary results point to the arrival of immigrant men, followed by a change in the relationship between the sexes: the women grow up on local food, the men have access to more widespread resources. This perhaps implies a matrilocal system, where forager men raised elsewhere marry into farming communities. It provides a likely antithesis to the social consequences of introducing agriculture into central Europe.
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