Designs on Pots: Ban Chiang & the Politics of Heritage in Thailand

Project Director: Penny B. Van Esterik (Anthropology)

Description: Ban Chiang is a mixed-use mortuary and occupation site in northeast Thailand in mainland Southeast Asia, occupied for over 2000 years from about 2100BC to 200AD. Bronze was in use at least by 1500BC and iron, by 500BC. The mound site was partially excavated in the late 60s and early 70s. Much of the bronze/iron age site was looted before official excavations were undertaken (Gorman 1982). The painted pottery that appeared in antique stores and private collections in Thailand in the early 70s dated from approximately 200 BCE-200 CE. The painted pottery is related to other ceramic traditions in the Khorat plateau area (Bacus 2007, White 2006).

This project seeks to create a digital archive of ceramics from archaeological excavations as photographed by the researcher in the late 60s and early 70s. Her records consist of 38 rolls of black and white negatives recording approximately 1000 pots); mounted photos of all recognizable designs; mounted photos of pottery designs arranged by symmetry class; and notebooks with drawings of unwound designs. The material provides an important case study of heritage and culture history in Southeast Asia.

The goal of this project is to make this collection available for future students who wish to explore the prehistory of Southeast Asia. A six chapter book currently in draft form examines subjects such as symmetry
analysis, looting and the antiquities market, faking antiquities, and the
politics of heritage in Thailand, all integrated with photographs.