Next Phase in the Bioarchaeology of the Thailand Archaeometallurgy Project

California State University Northridge, U.S.A.

Between 1986 and 1994, the Thailand Archaeometallurgy Project (TAP) excavated three sites (Non Pa Wai, Nil Kham Haeng, Non Mak La) in the Khao Wong Prachan Valley, central Thailand. The sites dated from the late Neolithic to the early historic period. The project aimed to investigate the development of prehistoric metallurgy in this ore-rich area and determine how metallurgy shaped the region’s society and culture. The material culture indicates that the people participated in large-scale, on-site copper smelting and the products were exchanged to locales elsewhere in Thailand. The distinctive industrial deposits at NPW and NKH made them among the largest prehistoric copper smelting sites in eastern Asia, while NML was mainly a habitation and burial site. Over time, technical sophistication, social complexity, and population size gradually increased, along with the demand for fuel and diversity of foodstuffs. Stable isotopic and paleopathological analyses on human skeleton from NML indicated a continuous locally-based land use pattern and generally good health in the human population with minimal fluctuations. At NPW and NKH, some individuals were interred with metalworking equipment in the Bronze Age deposit, strongly signifying their roles in metallurgy. This unique mortuary practice and site context lead us to TAP’s next research phase, investigating the extent and potential biological effects of daily exposure to metallurgical byproducts manifested as heavy metal contaminants in water, soil, and air. We will employ heavy stable isotopic and trace elemental analyses on human dental and skeletal remains. A wide range of faunal samples are also included to serve as an environmental baseline. We are in the process of completing light stable isotopic, paleopathological, and morphological profiles of the TAP individuals, paving the way for a comprehensive bioarchaeological assessment of the people’s lives and agency as they negotiated the landscape and the demands of craft production.