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