History Files

Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Dong Dau Culture (Bronze Age) (Vietnam)
c.1500 - 1000 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 Late Neolithic period in South-East Asia saw the rise of the region's first true farming cultures, following influence which reached the region from the rest of Asia, especially Early China. Around 2000 BC, ancient Chinese rice and millet farmers spread southwards into a region which stretched between today's Vietnam and Burma. There, they interbred with local hunter-gatherers. Those hunter-gatherers already had a tentative level of experience with early forms of farming.

In 2017 a team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist, Mark Lipson, concluded that these population movements brought true agriculture into the region and triggered the spread of Austroasiatic languages which are still spoken in parts of south and South-East Asia. Archaeology has already accumulated increasing amounts of evidence to support the emergence of rice farming in South-East Asia between 2500-2000 BC.

The Dong Dau culture is often classified as a late phase of the preceding Phung-nguyen, with parallel markings appearing on pottery and bronze castings which contained about twenty percent tin. The Phung-nguyen culture was centred on the Vinh Phu province of Vietnam (from where it interacted with the contemporary, but minor, Mai Pha culture). The Dong Dau occupied the same region, so that archaeological finds have to be carefully examined to ensure accurate categorisation.

People had already transitioned from cave-dwelling to coastal village life during the earlier Da But period, but the Phung-nguyen oversaw a further transition, from the Neolithic into the early Bronze Age. The Dong Dau continued the gradual progression from forager communities to organised minor kingships, with this period coinciding with the mythical state of Van Lang.

People were utilising pig, deer, buffalo, cow, dog, tiger, and quite a lot of fish. Stoneware finds include production tools such as axes, hammers, chisels, and grinding tables. Jewellery includes bracelets, beads, and earrings, while bronze wares include axes, spears, javelins, ploughshares, awls, needles, castings, arrows, hammers, and bronze wands.

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 Ancient Chinese farmers sowed literal seeds of change in south-east Asia (Science News), and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Vietnam pre-historic era (Inside Travel), and Dong Dau Archaeological Site (Vietnam.vn), and Dong Dau ancient culture set for preservation (SEAArch).)

c.1300 BC

The Middle Bronze Age Dong Dau culture provides the historical people of the mythical Van Lang kingdom with strong influences when it comes to ceramics production.

Pottery which forms part of this culture includes parallel markings which are absent on pottery from the recently-faded Phung-nguyen culture, although the Dong Dau is sometimes classified as a late phase of the Phung-nguyen.

Dong Dau culture pottery in Vietnam
Dong Dau archaeological site was discovered in 1962 and has gone through seven major explorations and excavations which have uncovered a large volume of artefacts

Numerous artefacts from this and three other cultures during the time of the Van Lang kings are found through several excavations at the Dong Dau type site, which is known as one of modern Vietnam's largest archaeological sites. It covers a total area of 8.5 hectares in Yen Lac town's Dong village.

c.1000 BC

The Bronze Age Dong Dau culture fades out around this time to be replaced by two others in eastern South-East Asia. In the north this is the Go Mun culture which has already arisen (alongside the Mai Pha), while in the centre and south it is the Sa Huỳnh culture which now emerges.

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