Ban Chiang: Dazzling Prehistory
The world already knows of Thailand’s third major contribution to world culture, Ban Chiang pottery. A vast collection of these pots has now been found both at Ban Chiang and at other nearby sites in northeast Thailand and have been displayed throughout the world. Their bold collections are not only wonderful in themselves, showing a highly developed artistic sense, but they may well be the oldest pottery designs in the world.
The site of this prehistoric civilization lies just 50 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Udon Thani. At Thailand’s first open museum at Wat Po Si Nai in the modern village, the Fine Arts Department has retained the conditions of the archeological excavations where the pots first became known. They were buried along with other items as part of the ancient civilization’s funeral rites. The site has unearthed a huge profusion and astonishing range of pottery. Although the typical Ban Chiang decorative style consisted of bold red lines on an ochre background, one can only begin to appreciate the amazing creativity of those ancient artisans when one realizes that pot after pot is different.
In a sense, the civilization produced thousands of unique artifacts with some of the designs evincing a highly developed creative art. A fish, for instance, is located in ripples of water - except that the ripples themselves are angular and scaled, fish within water. If you now drop down the hill and turn left, you will come to the Ban Chiang National Museum. This provides a formal presentation of Ban Chiang, placing it quite properly in its prehistoric perspective. It is well laid out and gives you a wonderful sense of the place. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is a mere 20 baht. You will of course see here much more than pots. The tools and utensils that went along with the Ban Chiang culture are on display, as are stone tools and depictions of ancient hominids that reach right back to the beginnings of prehistory in the area.