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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Óc Eo Culture (Iron Age) (Cambodia & Vietnam)
c.AD 1 - 630

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).

Continuing from where the Dong Nai culture left off, the Óc Eo culture flourished for over half a millennium in the far south of Vietnam and south-eastern Cambodia, and in part alongside the more northerly Sa Huỳnh culture during the first two centuries AD. Located in the Mekong delta, this region was dominated by proto-Khmer people. Its archaeological culture is tied closely to the little-known kingdom of Funan which bordered the Cham people to the north.

The culture's type site was first excavated in 1942. It formed the kingdom's main port between the second century BC and the twelfth century AD. The region is dominated by an ancient network of canals which crisscross the flatlands around the delta. One canal stretches sixty-eight kilometres to connect the port to the Angkor Borei district of today's Cambodia. This is thought to have been the kingdom's capital, just inside Cambodia's modern border with Vietnam.

However, with excavations only having begun in 1996, more work is needed to provide any concrete confirmation. Óc Eo culture sites are sprinkled across the southern regions of Vietnam, but are at their heaviest around the Mekong delta in the far south.

Finds from the type site include pottery, tools, jewellery, jewellery production casts, coins, and religious statues. Remarkably, some jewellery imitates Roman empire coins of the Antonine second century AD period, probably due to a recorded diplomatic connection with China in this period.

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 Pre-Dong Son cultures (Vietnam National Museum of History).)

late 1st century AD

According to Cham inscriptions and later tradition, a trader by the name of Kaupdinya founds a kingdom in the Mekong delta by the name of Funan. (now in southernmost Vietnam and south-eastern Cambodia). He and his native queen rule over an Indianised population in the region.

Queen Soma of Funan
Queen Soma and Kaundinya, her Indian husband and co-ruler are often claimed as the founders not only of Funan but of Chen-La and its successor, the Khmer empire

Their new kingdom is represented in the archaeological record by the Óc Eo culture. The area in which the culture's type-site lies presents a feature which is common to the entire Mekong delta region. It is an alluvial plain from which emerge scattered mounds, often of insignificant height, and recognisable by the presence of piles of blocks, slabs of granite, and also bricks.

The centre of this plain is occupied by the Phnom Bathe, a granitic massif which dominates the entire western part of the Transbassac. Judging from remains which have been recovered from this massif, it is clear that it is intensively populated in the first millennium AD and is probably one of the most ancient sacred places within the kingdom of Funan.

Oc Eo Culture
The Iron Age Óc Eo culture of southern Vietnam and areas of Cambodia serves as the archaeological expression of the kingdom of Funan, with this item dating from near its end in the early 600s AD

550 - 627

Funan has been the dominating power in the southern region of South-East Asia for five centuries. After 550 it had been eclipsed by Chen-La, perhaps surviving as a vassal state.

North-eastern Funan territory is gradually absorbed into the growing Cham domains so that the language or dialect of Funan is lost in preference to Cham tongues. The remainder is absorbed into Chen-La (by 627) and then the Khmer empire.


The Óc Eo culture comes to an end in South-East Asia following the termination of the kingdom of Funan in 627. The kingdom of Chen-La is now the dominant power in the region while, to its north, the Cham-dominated kingdom of Lâm Ấp has entered a highly obscure period.

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