Stone Tools and Exchange Networks in Prehistoric Southern Laos: From the Chert Adze Workshops of Nampaken, to the Stone Source of Don Lek Fai

Thonglith Luangkhoth1 & Daniel R. Davenport2

1Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Laos

2GeoHeritageLaos: Ban Phoxai, Champasak District, Champasak Province, Laos

The South of Laos is situated at a little-explored crossroads in mainland Southeast Asia. The development of prehistoric societies has been investigated elsewhere in the region, such as the Mun River Basin to the west and the Central Highlands of Vietnam to the east. Yet, the south of Laos lies at the nexus of these societies and we know relatively little about its prehistory, particularly before the Metal Age. This paper draws upon work previously reported for an early copper industry at the Vilabouly Complex in Savannakhet Province. Whilst research at the copper mines continues, investigations have branched-out to include the village of Nampaken, seven kilometres to the north. Nampaken is notable for its workshops dedicated to the production of shouldered and polished chert adzes. These workshops appear to date to an intense period in the Neolithic and are located at Nampaken due to the abundance of suitable chert cobbles, at a bend in the Nam Kok River. Use-wear analysis shows these artefacts functioned as light wood working tools and their dissemination throughout Southern Laos is being traced. The Nampaken research integrates with a wider project, investigating the sourcing of archaeological materials throughout Southern Laos, such as metal and stone for tools. This research includes Phou Lek, a metal production site located at a once major east-west, north-south crossroads, related to the temple complex of Vat Phou in early historical times. Overlapping this, are exchange routes for stone tools. For example, a north-south chert exchange route has been identified along the Mekong, involving Don Lek Fai, in Lao’s extreme south. Work building on the initial stages of this project, has potential to further elucidate the development of exchange networks throughout Southern Laos, from the Stone Age through to the early historical period, and offer comparisons with materials traded in neighbouring countries.