Past Pots and Present Potions: Can Contemporary Practice at Ban Non Wat identify a Specialist Healer in the Bronze Age?

Kate Cameron & Nigel Chang

James Cook University, Australia

Focused on a single vessel (Catalogue #31445) we examine this unique earthenware bowl recovered as a grave good associated with an early Bronze Age burial (B. 672) from Ban Non Wat, NE Thailand. The stunning decoration on this vessel was revealed during post-excavation cleaning. While the team was admiring the painted design, women of the local community archaeology team noticed the linear pattern etched into the inner surface of the pot and immediately identified this as a vessel for preparing women’s medicines. Much discussion ensued and carefully curated family vessels used for the preparation of specific women’s medicines were produced and their use demonstrated. In this presentation we consider the physical aspects of Catalogue #31445, its mortuary context, the immediate connections made by women in the community, and its similarities with archaeological and ethnographic examples internationally. If the interpretation that this highly decorated vessel was used for the preparation of medicines (or other pastes) in the early Bronze Age is correct, then the man interred in B. 672 may have been a specialist healer or ritual practitioner. Cat# 31445 may have been a central piece of his professional paraphernalia. We consider the implications of - and alternatives to - this hypothesis. Finally, as well as providing a new analogy as an insight into the life of a Bronze Age individual, this presentation also demonstrates how material culture can connect communities and individuals, living in the same place, but separated by stratigraphy and time.