, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 357-397
Date: 12 Nov 2009

The Transmission of Early Bronze Technology to Thailand: New Perspectives

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Abstract

In the four decades since the discovery that a discrete Bronze Age preceded the Iron Age in mainland Southeast Asia, much has been learned about the dating, technology, production, organization, and use of bronze metallurgy in the region, particularly in prehistoric Thailand. Although independent invention of copper smelting in Southeast Asia has not been considered likely by most regional archaeologists since the 1980s, the source of copper-base technology and the mechanisms of adoption remain poorly understood. Arguments claiming that the primary stimulus for the appearance of copper-base metallurgy in Southeast Asia came from early states in the Central Plain of China have dominated recent discussions, but anthropological approaches to technology transmission, adoption, and adaptation have yet to be systematically explored. After summarizing the current evidence for early bronze metallurgy in Thailand, this paper proposes an alternative to the predominant Sinocentric view of the source for Southeast Asian bronze technology. It will be proposed on both chronological and technological grounds that the first bronze metallurgy in Southeast Asia was derived from pre-Andronovo late third millennium BC Eurasian forest-steppe metals technology, and not from the second millennium, technologically distinctive, élite-sponsored bronze metallurgy of the Chinese Erlitou or Erligang Periods. Hypotheses for a transmission route and a research agenda for resolving debates on bronze origins in Southeast Asia are offered.