History Files

Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Dong Nai Culture (Bronze Age / Iron Age) (Vietnam)
c.500 - 1 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 Dong Nai Bronze Age and Iron Age crossover culture in Vietnam is classified as a proto-Óc Eo phase, lasting between about 500-1 BC. It was located in the lower basin of the River Dong Nai where it emerged out of preceding Sa Huỳnh cultural dominance. Iron tools and weapons of various types have been found by archaeologists, mainly in burial jars at Dong Nai sites.

The Mekong delta was dominated at this time by proto-Khmer people, bordered to the coastal north by the Cham people. This archaeological culture is tied to the period which led up to the formation of the kingdom of Funan in the far south of Vietnam and south-eastern Cambodia. The region is dominated by an ancient network of canals which crisscross the flatlands around the delta, but much more work is required to provide concrete confirmation of the culture's key features.

The people of this culture lived for the most part in stilt-houses, and they were good with iron metallurgy, and making jewellery and pottery. In particular, their jewellery, which was made of glass, gemstones, and gold, reflected the development of their economy, culture, and traditional customs, as well as cultural exchanges with surrounding peoples.

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 Survey of the Southern Provinces of Cambodia in the pre-Angkor Period, Kuoch Haksrea (MPhil thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1976), and from External Links: Bradshaw Foundation, and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Dong Nai Culture (Vietnam National Museum of History), and The Dongson Culture and Cultural Centers in the Metal Age in Vietnam, Hoang Xuan Chinh & Bui Van Tien (Asian Perspectives, Vol 23, No 1, 1980, pp 55-65, and available via JSTOR).)

c.500 BC

The late Bronze Age Sa Huỳnh culture in central and southern Vietnam now gives way in the far south to the Dong Nai culture. This is initially located in the lower basin of the Dong Nai river which sits immediately to the north of today's Ho Chi Minh City.

Dong Nai burial jar
This wooden burial jar with bronze drum was discovered in Phu Chanh commune, Binh Duong province, on the northern edges of Ho Chi Minh city and close to the Mekong delta

Iron tools and weapons of various types are to be found mainly in burial jars at Dong Nai archaeological sites. The Dong Nai people predominantly live in stilt-houses, practising iron metallurgy, alongside jewellery and pottery production.

Jewellery items are manufactured from glass, gemstones, and gold, all of which demonstrate the healthiness of the system's economy, culture, and traditional customs, not to mention cultural exchanges with surrounding peoples such as the Cham in the north.

c.1 BC

The Bronze Age in South-East Asia comes to an end along with the Dong Son culture in the north. This region now properly emerges into recorded history under the 'First Chinese Domination of Vietnam'.

In the south and centre of Vietnam the Sa Huỳnh continues to dominate, while in the Mekong delta of the far south, the Dong Nai now gives way to the Óc Eo culture.

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