About 600km from the bustling city of Bangkok, in the northern district of Udon Thani, lies Ban Chiang village.
Ban Chiang gained popularity due to its attractive red painted pottery and was awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
Turns out, the popularity of the red-painted pottery is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, red-painted pottery was so common, they were often used for infant burial.
The burial practice of Ban Chiang community
Archaeologists have identified three distinct periods in the history of Ban Chiang: the Early Period, the Middle Period and the Late Period.
The burial practice in prehistoric times comprised of burying the corpse with a variety of offerings, indicating a belief in life after death.
The burial practice of Ban Chiang culture 5,600 – 3,000 years ago can be divided into 3 types:
- Supine or extended burial with one or more pottery containing food places at the foot of the head of the grave
- Flexed burial which was very rare
- Jar burial, for certain infants
The pottery used for burial in the Early Period of Ban Chiang culture was decorated with black colour paste and cardmarked incised designs. In the Middle Period, white pottery decorated with cardmarked design was the preferred choice. In the Late Period, buff pottery decorated with the famous red-painted designs were commonly used. Towards the end of this period, red burnished pots became the most common grave offering pots. In addition, certain child burials contained glass beads and clay rollers.
Infants ceased to be buried in pots after the Early Period but children continued to receive special burial treatment throughout the Ban Chiang tradition.
All of this information I acquired while exploring the National Museum of Ban Chiang. The director of the museum herself took on the responsibility of showing us around.
The burial jars caught my curiosity and I asked her why infants were buried in jars.
“Because they fit the size.” – she simply replied!
Perhaps, back in the days, they found it convenient to simply put the bones of the children in a small pot and bury them beside their relatives?
Nearly all infants buried in jars were just a few weeks old. Did they just die young (due to lack of healthcare facilities and hygiene) or was infant infanticide practised? We will never know!
Archaeologists have done a stunning job in uncovering fascinating information about this old civilization but so much work is yet to be done, so many questions remain answered.
“Are archaeologists still digging up this area?” – I asked the guide.
“Not right now, no. Funds are limited… but also every time we dig up a site, we are also ruining the sanctity of the site.” – she responded.
Like everything else in the world, it’s a fine balance.
Important information for travellers
Ban Chiang National Museum is a wonderful way to explore the ancient way of life of the Tai Puan people and understand the progress of human civilisation. Ban Chiang justly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage site title. Many fascinating stories can be found here and perhaps many more are waiting to be discovered by archaeologists.
From Udon Thani town, the total distance is around 55 km. It is probably a good idea to hire a car or a taxi from Udon Thani airport to get here.
Visiting Hours: Daily from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission Fee : THB 30 for Thai / THB 150 for foreigners
For more information, contact 0 4220 4340