January 6, 2010
Vietnam United States - Hoa Kỳ  


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Origin of Vietnamese people.

Neolithic and Paleolithic
Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia, where the early appearance of anthropoids has been in many places.

In August 1965, in a cave in the area of Tan Van village, Lang Son province, the discovery was made of remains of two anthropoids closely related to Sinanthropus. These remains are still being studied, but the date of their appearance may be put, according to preliminary estimates, at the Middle Pleistocene, about half a million years ago.

The first trace of a real human industry were found in November 1960, on Mount Do in Thanh Hoa province. On a site 20-30 meters above the level of the surrounding rice fields were found thousands of stone splinters from cutters and scrapers. Among these were almond shaped hand-axes, carefully smoothed on both faces and typical of the Chellean period. The existence of a Earlier Paleolithic in Vietnam was thus confirmed.

In many caves in Yen Bai, Ninh Binh and Quang Binh provinces, where bones from post- Pleistocene fauna have been unearthed, teeth and jaw-bones from Homo sapiens  have also been discovered. And so man had thus continued to exist over a long period, gradually improving his tools, albeit very slowly.

Towards the end of the Paleolithic, the Red River delta had not yet completely silted up. Man had settled in the limestone hills bordering the plains, in spacious habitable caves located near rivers and forests where fish and game abounded. Tools were made from pebbles found in the streams. In Hoa Binh and Bac Son, centers of Stone Age culture have been discovered in caves with the remains of tools, utensils and hearths, even ashes, and traces of food preparation, particularly shells and bones.

Tools were made of roughly-chipped stone, were ellipsoid, disc, or almond-shaped, and comprised cutter, scrapers and rectangular axes. Pebbles served as pestles for crushing nuts and grain. Gradually the so-called Bac Son axe of polished stone made its appearance. Tools made of animal bones and horn have seldom been found. It is probable that bamboo was widely used to make stakes, arrows, cutters and so on. 

A section cut form the trunk of bamboo could serve as a vessel or even a cooking pot (still the case in highlands) as could coconuts, gourds and calabashes. Pottery made its appearance in the Bac Son period. Clay was first kneaded into a soft mass then molded into the shape of containers whose inner or outer surfaces were then polished. Traces have been found of a kind of spatula tied together by a piece of grass with which the clay was patted while still wet. In general, earthen ware was still rough and fired at a fairly low temperature. 

Hunting and food gathering were the main activities. No traces of agriculture and no remains of domestic animals, except perhaps for the dog, have been found.

In the same period, along the coast Trung Bo (Central) man lived mostly from fishing. Shells from mollusks which had been eaten accumulated in enormous mounds, five or six meters high and several thousand square meters in area, the most typical having been found in Quynh Luu ( Nghe An Province). These mounds also contain the bones of mammals (deer, buffalo and dog) and pestles with hollowed-out stones used to crush grain. Many stone tools have been unearthed.

Under a heap of shells in Quynh Van, several tombs have been found in a group. The dead were buried in a sitting position with their knees bent, along with a few tolls and adornments made of shell, none and stone, small perforated beads of baked earth, and pottery with decorative motifs. On the wall of a cave in Hoa Binh, a drawing has been found of a creature with the body of an animal and a human head but with horn, The presence of shells in caves far from the coast and of stone tolls in coastal areas where stone was not available seems to be evidence of some sort of exchange between regions.

It is reasonable that at the end of the Neolithic Era, about 5,000-6,000 years ago, most of the primitive human beings living on the territory of present-day Vietnam were entering into the era of rice cultivation. Recent archaeological discoveries have provided evidence of this everywhere, form north to south, from highlands to lowlands. and from littoral areas to islands off the coast. Besides well-known Neolithic sites in the Red River delta and the basin of the Ma River, traces of the Halong culture have been found along the coast of Quang Ninh province, a culture that succeeded the Bac Son culture. Father south and also on the coast in the southern part of Binh Tri Thien area, the Bau Tro site can be regarded as a more developed stage of the Quynh Van tradition. During the same period in the highlands in southwest central Vietnam, open-air where the axes, knives, polishers, stone hoes and pottery found show no similarities in manufacturing techniques with those of articles found elsewhere in Vietnam.


Farther south, in the basin of the Dong Nai River nearly 50 Neolithic sites have been discovered in ancient or more recent alluvial layers of islands, the most representative being Cau Sat in Xuan Loc districts. This region flourished 4000 years ago, with relatively important centers of human habitation. The Dong Nai culture was an upland one whose inhabitants practiced dry rather than wet rice cultivation in low-lying western region of the MeKong River Delta.

Polished stone implements became more and more specialized. Axes and shoulder axes (those with tenons) were well-polished, in various sizes and with regular geometrical shapes, and set in hafts. men knew how to saw and drill, and to use various tools to fell trees, clear large expanses of land, build boats, make wooden and bamboo implements, scrape tree-bark and hides, and make rings, bracelets, earrings and beads out of bones, shell or stone. 

Pottery-making reached a high level. The use of the potter's wheel and kiln made it possible to obtain items of good quality and varying size and shape, mainly pots and vases decorated with geometrical patterns. Bone needles, spinning wheels and shuttles of baked earth prove the existence of weaving and garment-making. Along the coast and near rivers and streams, sinkers of baked clay have been discovered as well as projectiles of the same material used in hunting with blow-pipes.

The existence of agriculture and livestock-breeding has been confirmed by the discovery of hoes, large earthen-ware grain containers, and pig and buffalo bones, It appears that rice was grown in burnt-out forest clearings on hill-slopes and in submerged fields in the plains. Indochina is one of the regions where rice -growing made its appearance at the earliest date.

While man continued to live in caves in mountainous regions, in recently discovered sites on the plains traces have been found of houses made of wood and bamboo, their size seeming to indicate that they were communal dwellings. The remains of such structures are scattered over tens of thousands of square meters, an area equivalent to that of present-day village. Innumerable artefacts found here indicate the presence of thousand of people, comprising tribes made up of many clans. Houses were probably built on stilts as among present-day dwelling ethnic minorities. historical records state that our ancestors built elevated houses to ward off attacks by tigers.

The large -scale manufacture of implements and large quantities of jewelry and decorated pottery show that the division of labor had reached a high level. The dead were were buried together with implements, ornaments and pottery, and often in communal graves. Such equality in death shows that class differentiation among the living had not appeared.

Skulls found in Hoa Binh, Bac Son, Quynh Van and Minh Cam suggest that the people belonged to the Australo-Negroid group. However, Mongoloids coming to from the north and Australo-Negroloid gave birth to a southern Mongoloid group which at first coexisted with the others but finally became predominant. Ethnic groups now living in Vietnam all belong to this group, but have fairly definite Australo-Negroid features. What happened was interracial mixing from which sprang an autochthonous group which developed its own culture- not massive migration bringing in any external civilization. The study of stone tools and pottery from various Neolithic and Mesolithic sites has proved the continuity of an internal evolution occurring on the spot with its own unique features.

The Bronze Age

In the middle of the second millennium B.C, bronze first made its appearance together with stone tools. Sites dating back to early Bronze Age were mostly concentrated in the uplands and the Red River delta. The most representative site is Phung Nguyen (Vinh Phu province) discovered in 1958, where the objects found- working tools and ornamental items- all finely polished, testify to a high level of stone-working, chiefly of cutting, making it possible to produce objects of precise and sometimes complicated form with a minimum of raw materials. Bronze appears to have become more and more common in the whole range of tools as welll as weapons.

The Phung Nguyen culture at the beginning of the Bronze Age gave rise to the Dong Dau period (second half of the 2nd millennium B.C), then to the Go Mun period (early in the 1st millennium B.C), finally reaching a peak with the Dong Son culture, named after the eponymous site, the most important Bronze Age site discovered in 1924 in Thanh Hoa province.

Archaeologists have now identified 96 Dong Son sites yielding a rich collection of items (at least 56 types) scattered throughout most of northern Vietnam, mainly in the deltas of the Red, Ma, and Ca rivers.

The first copper, and later bronze, objects appeared beside polished stone implements and earthenware still Neolithic in nature. Sandstone moulds for manufacturing axes, spears and knives have been found in many places. The quality of the bronze and of their shaping improved little by little, eventually resulting in the remarkable creations of Dong Son. This evolution took many centuries. While its was marked by external elements, these were not decisive as has been claimed by European archaeologists.

On the basis of inadequate information and inspired really by co by colonialist feelings, some European archaeologists have even put forward the theory that the art of bronze-casting in Vietnam came originally from Europe.

Recent discoveries have revealed three important facts:

- The art of bronze-casting appears to have been based on the Neolithic industry;

- It underwent a long period of development leading to the remarkable creations of Dong Son;

- It spreads throughout the territory of Vietnam, and recently discovered sites have revealed a unique civilization.

The bronze artefacts discovered are extremely varied in nature: production implements such as ploughshares, axes, scythes, scrapers, chisels for wood-working, needles and fish-hooks; domestic utensils such as large containers, pots, basins and jars; weapons such as arrowheads, spears, sabers, knives, halberds and armor; musical instruments such as bells and drums; and works of art such as bracelets and statuettes.

The most remarkable objects are without doubt the bronze drums. They have been found in many places in Southeast Asia and China, but it is generally recognized that the finest were discovered in Vietnam.

The drum found at Ngoc Lu is 63 centimeters high, 79 centimeters in diameter, and cylindrical in shape. In the middle of the upper surface is an image of the sun with radiating beams, and 16 concentric circles with very varied decorations: geometrical patterns, herds of deer and aquatic birds, and human figures, playing musical instruments, pounding rice, or beating drums.

The men are clad in garments made from the feathers of aquatic birds, which give them the appearance of bird-men probably indicating a totemic significance. They dance to the rhythm of clappers. There are also small buildings and houses on stilts and, on a curved edge below the top, boats and warriors carrying axes, spears and arrows.

These drawings and decorations are both realistic and stylized, testifying to the artistic talents of their creators. Most bronze artefacts are also highly decorated or finely shaped. This unquestionably shows a specific and unique civilization. The bronze drums were used during important festivals and ceremonies, especially those invoking rain.

Bronze ploughshares, scythe and sickle blades, and drawing on implements representing rice plants or people pounding rice-all testify to the development of agriculture. While cultivation in burn-out forest clearings continued, wet rice planting was also developing. Fishing in oceans and rivers was widely practised. Handicrafts, pottery-making and bronze-casting, having reached a high level, began to be separated from agriculture. On pottery vessels, traces of plaited bamboo ties can be seen; basket-making must also have reached a high level of development.

Drawings on the bronze drums represent large houses on stilts and junks, some with towers, evidence of great progress in wood-working.

Overseas exchanges, especially with certain regions in southern China and Indonesia, have been proved by the discovery in tombs of various objects and weapons from the Warring Kingdoms Period (5th-3rd centuries B.C in China) while bronze drums of Dong Son manufacture were sold in far-away lands.

While material civilization and art reached their peak at the end of the first millennium B.C in the north, there appeared on a narrow strip of coastal land from south of the Ngang Pass (18th parallel) to the basin of the Dong Nai river another brilliant civilization related to the Dong Son culture. This was the Sa Huynh culture, named after the site where it was first discovered on the coast of present-day Nghia Binh province.

Its principal distinguishing characteristic is a large number of funeral jars (usually 0.6 meters high) containing human remains, ornamentals made of bronze, precious stones and glass and bronze or stone tools

Artefacts revealing a culture tradition that had evolved without interruption for a thousand years from the beginning of the Bronze Age to the beginning of the Iron Age (4th-1st millennia B.C)

The study of items collected leads us to assume that the economic basis of the Sa Huynh culture was the cultivation of rice and grain crops on varied terrain comprising high hills, low-lying plains and alluvial land along the coast. The people of Sa Huynh also practised sea-fishing and had a close relationship via the sea with the inhabitants of the Red River delta in the north and islands in the south. Their funerary remains came within the frame work of a wider cultural tradition whose range of influence spread over upper Laos, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Sa Huynh culture may have given rise to the formation of ancient Malay- Polynesian states on the coastal plains of central Vietnam in the 1st century A.D.

Thanks to rice cultivation, the living of the then people all over the now Vietnam became more stable.

In communes, a large part of the population became specialized. Their production was first to meet the demand of their commune and then for exchange with other communes. Then the primitive tribes began to disintegrate. The country entered a new stage.

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