Prehistoric copper mining in the context of emerging community craft specialization in northeast Thailand
Finds of metal artifacts in copper and bronze from archaeological sites in Southeast Asia have been a commonplace as long as sites have been excavated. However, the revelations in the mid-1970s of bronze in the prehistoric village of Ban Chiang in northeast Thailand put Southeast Asia on the map as an Old World culture area with its own unique metalworking traditions (Gorman and Charoenwongsa 1976; White 1982, 1986, 1988, 1997). The ensuing discussion concerning the origins and development of copper/bronze metallurgy in Southeast Asia has resulted in important advances since the initial recognition that this area was relevant to the topic of Old World metallurgical development, not least White’s (1988:179) characterization of a ‘Southeast Asian metallurgical province’ (on this term,
see Chernykh 1980). Distinct from other Old World metallurgical centers, this province is characterized by a technological ‘internal coherence’ of adaptive metalworking traditions. A second important advance, stimulated, in part, by the Ban Chiang Project, was the initiation in 1984 of the Thailand Archaeometallurgy Project (TAP).1 Over the next decade TAP focused exclusively on the excavation of prehistoric mining and metal-producing
communities in northeast and central Thailand (Figure 13.1). This work has helped to develop and refine our understanding of the Southeast Asian metallurgical province, at least for the core zone of Thailand. While metal artifacts from excavated contexts are increasing in number (Higham 1996), only in Thailand has problem-oriented archaeology begun to collect the range of data necessary to place copper/bronze metallurgy in its proper socioeconomic context.