Does Myanmar Have the Earliest Neolithic in Mainland Southeast Asia? A New Four Millennia Radiometric Sequence at Halin, Sagaing Division

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Paris Nanterre UMR 7065 IRAMAT, France

From 2017 to 2020, the Mission Archéologique Française au Myanmar (MAFM), in collaboration with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, pushed to improve the radiometric chronology for proto and early historic north-central Myanmar. The UNESCO-listed site of Halin, located ca. 65 km NW of Mandalay and ca. 15 km west of the Irrawaddy River, was an ideal location for this endeavour. Known primarily as a Pyu city-state, Halin also hosts archaeological deposits stretching from the Bagan period right back to, claimed, Neolithic deposits. MAFM excavations at funerary, settlement and industrial loci spanning these periods have provided an unprecedented quantity and quality of data to better understand the historical trajectory of this region. Among these data are circa one hundred new radiocarbon dates, with individual testpits being sequenced with in excess of 25 determinations. These add to the dozen previously available dates, some of which were performed in the 1960s, and provide reasonable coverage for four millennia of Halin’s development. Lacunae remain, particularly at the older end of the sequence, and yet the implications are rather exciting. In 2012, Hudson and Lwin published three mid-3rd millennium BC dates, from a claimed Neolithic pottery firing site, HL-19*. These claims did not make waves at the time but upon the MAFM’s arrival at Halin, a major objective was to test their veracity, as a Neolithic phase at this date would be older than any other recent radiometric chronology for Mainland Southeast Asia. HL-19* was re-excavated and an additional nine determinations obtained. All are consistent with the mid-3rd millennium BC. Whilst we do not concur with the original interpretation of a pottery firing site, we do suspect the locale is Neolithic in date. In this paper I present the potential implications of a precocious Myanmar Neolithic.