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Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 357–397 | Cite as

The Transmission of Early Bronze Technology to Thailand: New Perspectives

  • Joyce C. WhiteEmail author
  • Elizabeth G. Hamilton
Original Paper

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.

Keywords

Early bronze metallurgy Technological transmission Ban Chiang Seima–Turbino Bronze Age Thailand Southeast Asia 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Victor Mair for his enthusiastic mad-dash investigation sparked by a simple email request for references on archaeology in Yunnan and Sichuan to help sort out a possible link from Yunnan to Gansu c. 2000 BC. Thanks to all who answered Victor’s emails to them on this topic. Constructive comments from Elisabeth Bacus, Roberto Ciarla, Robert Ehrenreich, Chureekamol Eyre, Victor Mair, Ben Marwick, Vincent Pigott, Oliver Pryce, Ben Roberts, Tim Taylor, Christopher Thornton, and Sarah Wright on previous drafts greatly improved the quality and content of this paper. We gratefully acknowledge Ardeth Abrams, who prepared the illustrations. Anonymous reviewers have assisted us in strengthening both the arguments and the presentation. Thanks to Robert Murowchick for sending Joyce White his dissertation almost 20 years ago. And we are grateful to Surapol Natapintu for permission to use an illustration of the Ban Mai Chaimongkol bronze bar and to Bill Solheim for permission to use a drawing of WOST. Of course, any errors in scholarship are solely the authors’.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Pennsylvania MuseumPhiladelphiaUSA

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