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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Bac Son Culture (Pre-Neolithic Foragers) (South-East Asia)
c.10,000 - 8000 BC

FeatureHuman history in Asia as a whole provides one of the earliest stories outside of the Near East and Africa. However, human history in South-East Asia is relatively obscure. Anatomically modern humans in the form of Homo sapiens reached the region around 60,000 BC, quickly expanding into Oceania and East Asia soon afterwards (see the Hominid Chronology feature link for more).

The Bac Son culture (or Bacsonian period) succeeded the Mesolithic Hoabinhian culture in Vietnam and farther afield across the region. This culture was more of a progression than a replacement, with the early stages of wet-rice farming leaving archaeological traces. In some modern scholarly circles the Bac Son has been classed as a late stage of the Hoabinhian rather than a culture in its own right.

Bac Son is a rural district of today's Lạng Sơn province in the north-eastern region of Vietnam, located some one hundred-and-sixty kilometres to the north of Hanoi. This valley features high mountains and low valleys, the latter of which are rich with paddy fields and also the traditional stilt houses of the ethnic Tay people who occupy the valley today.

Apart from its Neolithic advances in stone tool technology, the Bac Son is also remarkable for its Bac Son sacred seals. According to archaeologists, the seals were made from Schiste rock, each one averaging at a length of between eight to fifteen centimetres, and coming in the form of a long, small, slightly flat pebble, on one or two thin edges, with two fairly even parallel grooves.

Con Moong Cave in the central province of Thanh Hoa provides another detailed glimpse of prehistoric human life here, with traces of long habitation which can be linked to the Son Vi, the Hoabinhian, the Bac Son, and the Da But. This sequence seems to have ended with the arrival of dedicated rice farming as part of the Phung-nguyen culture.

Traditional House, Vietnam

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Vietnam: A New History, Christopher Goscha, from Early Mainland Southeast Asia, C Higham (River Books Co, 2014), from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), from The Macmillan Dictionary of Archaeology, Ruth D Whitehouse (Macmillan, 1983), and from External Links: Bradshaw Foundation, and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Vietnam pre-historic era (Inside Travel), and Bac Son Tours, and Bac Son Seal (Lang Son News), and Vietnam Online.)

c.10,000 BC

Lang Son is a northern province of Vietnam which borders Cao Bang province to its north, and China's Sung Ta province to its north-east. The majority of the region consists of low mountains and hills, and it is here that finds are unearthed which belong to the Bac Son culture and also the Mai Pha culture.

The Bac Son reveals a higher frequency of edge-grounded cobble artefacts when compared to artefacts of the preceding Hoabinhian in early Vietnam. Excavations unearth coarsely-hewn axes and scrapers which are made from riverbed pebbles. Stone axes with partially polished blades are commonplace, as are elongated pebble tools with flutes for sharpening fluted tools.

Bac Son rice fields
The Bac Son culture set up the opening stages of the Neolithic farming revolution in South-East Asia, with relatively primitive tribes now focused more heavily on planting rice

c.10,000 BC

With South-East Asia's Mesolithic period having transitioned into the early Neolithic, and with the very earliest beginnings of farming practices now starting to edge out forager habits, the Bac Son culture is succeeded in Lang Son alone by the Mai Pha culture, and more broadly by the Quynh Van.

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