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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Quynh Van Culture (Pre-Neolithic) (Vietnam)
c.8000 - 6000 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 Quynh Van culture succeeded Vietnam's early Neolithic Bac Son culture in the region (aside from the very limited reach of the contemporary Mai Pha culture). Like the Bac Son, it has been referred to as a late period extension of the earlier Hoabinhian. Quynh Van chronology remains unclear though. Lithic artefacts show affinities with the later Da But culture but the pottery is different.

French archaeologist Madeleine Colani first excavated the archaeological shell mound of Quynh Van in the 1930s. This is the type site for this pre-Neolithic culture. Further investigations in 1963 and 1964 demonstrated that the site comprised a five metre-high shell mound of predominantly window-pane oyster shells (Placuna placenta), and concentrations of ash, charcoal, and the characteristic paddle-impressed Quynh Van pottery with a pointed base.

The site also produced thirty-one flexed or crouched burials, without grave goods, one of at least twenty-one other Quynh Van sites on the coastal plains of Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces. All sites are formed from Placuna shell mounds of various remaining heights.

There occurred a reshaping of economic and settlement strategies during the opening of the Neolithic period. People went from hunter-gatherer occupation in caves and on shell mounds to sedentary settlement, located in riverine situations with access to good alluvial farmland, and along the coast. The Quynh Van provides a window onto that transition.

The Quynh Van was succeeded by the Da But culture, although finds so far suggest that this only appeared after a gap during which the less advanced Toalean became prominent in southern areas of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. There may be more which needs to be added to the prehistoric record in order to fill in this gap, although dates given for the culture are sometimes stretched downwards to a degree.

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 The Quynh Van culture of central Vietnam (Science Direct).)

c.8000 BC

Shell middens and cord-impressed or comb-marked pottery characterise Quynh Van sites. Many vessels have pointed rather than rounded bases. The culture appears and flourishes in what is now northern Vietnam, with minor intrusions into south-western China and eastern Laos.

Economic and settlement strategies are being realigned in this period. People are transitioning from hunter-gatherer occupation in caves and on shell mounds to sedentary settlement in riverine situations with access to good alluvial farmland.

Quynh Van tools
Material culture from the Ru Diep site in north-central Vietnam (Ha Tinh province) reveals a mixture of both pre-Neolithic (Quynh Van culture) and Neolithic elements, in a shell mound context

c.6000 BC

While South-East Asia's highly-localised Mai Pha culture of Lang Son continues unabated, the Quynh Van is succeeded, after a potential gap, by the Da But culture, while the less advanced Toalean becomes prominent on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

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