Intensification of Agriculture at Ban Chiang: Is There Evidence from the Skeletons?
IN 1974 AND 1975 , WITHIN THE VILLAGE OF BAN CHIANG, northeast Thailand, two separate archaeological excavations were conducted under the direction of Chester Gorman and Pisit Charoenwongsa of the University of Pennsylvania and the Thai Fine Arts Department, respectively. The two locations (the side and backyard of a house, and a road) were chosen as unlooted areas toward the center of the village mound. Less than 0.16 percent of the approximately 8-ha mound was excavated (White 1986: 29). Yen
... ite 1986: 29). Yen 1982) focused renewed attention on the prehistory of Southeast Asia. Although the original chronology proposed by Gorman and Charoenwongsa (1976) has been revised (White 1986), the evidence for early agriculture (including domesticated rice), early metallurgy (including early bronze), distinctive decorative pottery, ornaments, and elaborate burial offerings have distinguished Ban Chiang as one of the most important prehistoric settlements so far excavated in Southeast Asia. In 1992, Ban Chiang was designated a World Heritage Site. In addition to plant and animal remains, artifacts, and evidence for habitation and metal working, the excavations at Ban Chiang resulted in the recovery of 142 inhumation burials. The skeletal remains have been the subject of ongoing research at the University of Hawai'i since their initial discovery. Because these skeletons were interred over the course of two thousand years, they represent an exceptional resource for examining both biological and cultural changes over time. A monograph (Pietrusewsky and Douglas 2002) describing the human skeletal remains from Ban Chiang has been recently published by University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. This monograph presents a detailed discussion of some of the current issues in bioarchaeology, including the effects of sedentism and an increasing dependence on agriculture, and evidence for rank, status, and gender differences in health and disease.