Spatial Archaeological and Geoinformatics Approach to Traditional Salt-Making in Northeastern Thailand

The 6th Regional Office of Fine Arts, Sukhothai Province, Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, Thailand

According to previous archaeological research in the northeastern region of Thailand, the tradition of salt-making has continued from the Iron Age to the present day. The tradition of salt-making has been a key factor in social development in the region and played a role in changing the landscape. However, there is a need to better understand the geographic distribution of salt-making and the techniques of production, as well as the socio-economic relationship between interior and exterior communities. In this project geoinformatics was applied in archaeological surveys to obtain a thematic map of salt-making practices in the region. This was then linked with information on oral history and etymology collected in the field. The results demonstrate that salt-making sites were distributed in three main river basins in northeastern Thailand. The project was also able to identify why salt-making production sites were situated in this area. Interestingly, varying techniques were applied in the production of salt at different sites due to raw material preference: saltwater vs saline soils. The technique of using saline soils appears to be the most common practice by the salt-makers in the Iron Age at least c. 500 BCE, as exemplified by the salt-makers at Ban Non Wat in the Upper Mun Basin. There are some similarities in the way salt was produced during prehistory and in Tai ethnic groups outside the area, i.e., Northern Thailand, Laos, Sagaing Region of northwestern Myanmar, Assam state of northeastern India, and Southern China. The research suggested that this area occupied a key position in the development of the salt-making tradition, production, and distribution. The variety of raw materials, consumption, and salt trading in the area was significantly correlated with local urbanization, and rural agricultural communities. Two late prehistoric groups were likely involved in salt-making - Austroasiatic, and Tai–Kadai speaking peoples.