Historical Archaeology; Ancient Buddhist Culture in Wundwin (11th - 19th Century AD)

Independent Scholar, SOAS Alphawood Alumni, Myanmar

Wundwin township, located c. 100 Km south of Mandalay, has strong evidence of the Neolithic and Bronze Age Samon (600 BC- 300 AD) culture, prior to the construction of Pyu Buddhist cities of the 1st millennium CE. Archaeological sites include Kokkokhahla and Bulugone. Wundwin has long been renowned for its production and export of cotton from prehistoric times until today, a centre of traditional weaving with prehistoric evidence including textile fragments on ancient artefacts. Records show that in the 11th century CE cotton was exported to China, suggesting that the region was an important trade hub that financially supported the building of pagodas. Various ancient buildings such as temples and stupas still exist in Wundwin Township that date from the 1stmillennium AD, and religious temples and monuments, where the architecture is in the Bagan style of the 11th to 13th centuries CE. Construction also continued in later centuries. All of these Buddhist temples have been in use for hundreds of years together with the flourishing trade of cotton and other agricultural products. However, the art and architecture, and the spatial distribution of structures is rarely considered together with the economic and social landscape. This paper specifically focuses on the interaction between trade and culture, to show how the continued patronage of the art, historic architecture and history of Wundwin, from the Bagan period onwards determined the historical and contemporary landscape alike. The research also assesses the distribution of Buddhist temples of the Bagan and later periods that are maintained through the local Pagoda Trustee Committees that give a distinct continuity to the cultural identity and Buddhist culture in Wundwin.