Ancient culture revisited

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Recent discoveries of Sa Huynh culture remnants, which flourished mainly in Vietnam's central region 2,000-2,500 years ago, gives researchers fresh insights.

Fresh light is cast on a way of life that thrived in Vietnam 2,000-2,500 years ago by artifacts on display at the National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi.

The Sa Huynh culture is dated from 1,000 B.C. until the late second century. It is one of the three ancient cradles of civilization in Vietnam.

The Sa Huynh people are thought to be predecessors of the Cham, the founders of the Champa Kingdom that flourished in the country from 132 AD until the 18th century.

Along with the Dong Son Culture in the north and the Oc Eo Culture in the Mekong Delta, Sa Huynh is considered one of the most prominent ancient Vietnamese cultures of the Iron Age.


Items at the exhibition that will remain open until July 31

The Sa Huynh culture dominated an area stretching from the central region to the southeastern region and the Central Highlands. It was discovered and studied by French archeologists in 1909 at the Sa Huynh salt field in Quang Ngai Province's Duc Pho District.

To date, 80 Sa Huynh relic sites have been excavated in provinces of the central region.

The Sa Huynh culture is characterized by the tradition of burying the dead in urns mostly on high mounds by the sea or rivers. Ancient Sa Huynh people cremated their dead and put the ashes in urns. The French excavated these urns and found many of them contained stone adornments and tools.

There are not many burial urns in the collection but they are of diverse shapes and sizes. Some are cylindrical, others are oval and yet others are spherical. There are also urns that contain smaller ones within, similar to those placed in ancient Egypt.

The most special of them is a peach-shaped jar with floral patterns and inscribed stripes as decorations. This jar was found late last year in the north-central region at the Bai Coi Relic Site in Ha Tinh Province's Nghi Xuan District, and considered part of the site of the Dong Son culture by Vietnamese archeologists.

The discovery of the special tomb reveals new aspects of the Sa Huynh culture which was said to be concentrated in the mid-central and south-central regions, from present day Quang Binh Province to the southeastern region.

"The excavation of the Bai Coi Relic Site gives researchers another look at Sa Huynh," says Pham Quoc Quan, director of the National History Museum.

Researchers had previously said the Dong Son culture stood out the most in the multilateral relationship between the Sa Huynh culture and other cultures in Southeast Asia. In fact, the characteristic aspects of the Sa Huynh culture are also found in the Dong Son culture such as earrings with two animal's heads in Xuan An (Ha Tinh) and burial urns in Lang Vac (Nghe An).

Terra-cotta pots, pans and containers with stands account for a large proportion of the exhibits on display. They are mainly decorated with floral patterns in the form of stripes, cockle shells and twisted rope which are painted red and black.

In Sa Huynh-style adornments, stone or glass earrings with two animal's heads are the most typical.

Cultural interactions

According to Dr. Lam Thi My Dung of the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Sa Huynh vestiges found in coastal areas, mountains and forests after 1975 show different aspects of the Sa Huynh culture and help bring new understanding about the economic life of residents.

For instance, more than 2,000 years ago, Sa Huynh residents not only traded on the sea but also cultivated rice, evidenced by half-burnt rice grains found at Sa Huynh archeological sites.

Dr. Dung says archeologists have also discovered many burial urns of the pre-Sa Huynh period (more than 3,000 years old) and proof of the close relationship between mainland residents and islanders during the Sa Huynh and pre-Sa Huynh periods. These exhibits were found on Cham Islet (Quang Nam Province), Ly Son Island (Quang Ngai Province), and Tho Chu and Phu Quoc islands (Kien Giang Province).

Many Sa Huynh relic sites are, however, at risk of being destroyed for various reasons including roads being built and poor management of the excavation sites.

Dr. Quan from the museum has suggested authorities rebuild the road that passes the Bai Coi Relics Site. He also proposes the establishment of a Sa Huynh Museum and the creation of an archeological map of Sa Huynh to make it convenient for different localities to implement zoning plans.

The exhibition on Pham Ngu Lao Street in the capital city will remain open until July 31.

Apart from an entrance fee of VND20,000 (US$1.12), the museum also collects fees of VND15,000 ($0.84) and VND30,000 ($1.68) per camera for taking pictures and recording videos respectively.

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