Ancient Copper Technologies in Thailand and Laos: Data from the Vilabouly Complex (Laos)

Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

Thailand, and particularly the northeast, remains the best-known region for ancient copper metallurgy in Southeast Asia with two primary copper production centres known, as well as secondary production sites, some of them studied by Prof. Higham and his team. Lead isotope analyses have revealed that despite local copper resources, Thai communities were also involved in regional exchange networks from the Bronze age onwards, receiving copper supplies from other regions, such as central Laos. The central part of Laos and the northeastern part of Thailand have a geography that is conducive to contact due to the presence of river basins and plains. The Vilabouly Complex (VC) in central Laos, the third known primary copper production centre in Southeast Asia, seems to have provided a supply of copper to northeast Thailand. The study of crucibles, ores, slags, and finished objects has allowed characterization of the copper craft tradition, including the mining and smelting techniques practiced by ­­the upland Laos communities. Recent data have also revealed some shared crucible technologies and processes between the Thai and VC sites. It is quite possible that different metal-using populations could have developed the same technological choices conditioned by metallurgical practice at the end of the Prehistoric period. The exchange networks of raw material/objects could also have contributed to the dissemination of certain technologies. This paper will explore connections between the VC and Thailand through prehistoric metallurgical evidence (lead isotope data and copper technologies).