Prehistoric Chronologies in Vietnam: Advancements and Outstanding Problems

In Vietnam, there is still a tendency to interpret the chronology of an archaeological site and/or culture based on stratigraphic principles, typological sequencing, seriation and ethnoarchaeological comparisons. Irrespective of geographic location, material culture comparisons are made with better-known and absolute dated sites, such as those in the Red River delta, and the chronological and cultural sequences linked, generally as contemporaneous. The Three Age System is applied, and the archaeological site/culture placed within the corresponding periodization (Neolithic, Bronze Age or Iron Age), even though this type of phasing may not accurately reflect the archaeological record. This has resulted in the interpretation of an almost coeval, unilinear transformation from the Palaeolithic to Iron Age across Vietnam. In reality this is almost certainly not the case, and the emergence of bronze metallurgy, for example, was much more complex than currently envisaged. One of the first steps to unravelling social and cultural complexities across the region is the application and interpretation of much more comprehensive chronometric dating programs. Although, there have been significant advances in the use of absolute dating techniques in recent years, numerous problems still exist both in terms of methodologies and interpretation. For instance, there remains an emphasis on excavation, limiting funding for post-excavation research, poor sampling strategies, and the continuing tendency to use one or two ad hoc radiocarbon dates to define the chronological framework for an entire culture. In this presentation, I will discuss the introduction, use and impact of relative and absolute dating systems. I will outline outstanding problems and causes, both objective and subjective in understanding the chronologies in Vietnamese prehistoric archaeology, and propose some possible future solutions.

Lâm Thị Mỹ Dung

Prof. Lâm Thị Mỹ Dung received her BA/MA and PhD in Archaeology from Kliment Okhridsky (Sofia University), Sofia, Bulgaria in 1983 and 1987, respectively. Since 1989, Dung has been employed as a lecturer in Archaeology and Vietnamese Traditional Culture at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, a member university of Vietnam National University (VNU) in Hanoi. She is chair of the Department of Archaeology and former director of the Anthropology Museum. Her research interest cover the Metal Age in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the appearance of rice cultivation and bronze metallurgy in Vietnam, and the Archaeology of Champa. Dung’s various authored, co-authored and edited works include Fundamental Culture of Vietnam (1999); Gò Mả Vôi – New Research on the Sa Huynh Culture (2002), The Bronze Age (2004); Fundamental Archaeology (2009), The Museum of Anthropology – Achievements and Perspectives (2015), Thành Dền Archaeological Site – Prominent Historical and Cultural Values (2016), Sa Huynh – Linyi – Champa: 5th Century BC – 5th Century AD (Some Archaeological Issues, 2017), One millennium of Champa pottery (2017), and Maritime Archaeology in Vietnam (2017).