Transoceanic Contact of Suvaṇṇabhūmi: The Case Study of Shipwrecks Discovered in Thailand from 2nd Century BCE to 1st Millennium CE

Underwater Archaeology Division, Fine Arts Department, Thailand

Watercraft have been regularly discovered around the coasts of Thailand over the last 50 years. This is due to Thailand’s important geographical location in the middle of the international maritime trade networks between China and the Indian Ocean. Methods of boat construction and their cargoes provide unique insights into the types of crafts being utilised within these networks and the material culture they were transporting between their ports of embarkation and destination. For example, the Pak Khrong Kluay Shipwreck (180 BCE) discovered in Ranong was constructed using the mortise and tenon technique derived from the Mediterranean area. Archaeologists believe this ship relates to the formation of ancient port sites in the southern peninsula of Thailand. In the lower central plain, the Phanom-Surin sewn ship was unearthed in Samut Sakhon Province. Findings illustrate the influence of global maritime contacts during the 9th century CE such as those in Arabia, South India, and China with the Dvaravati community. The distribution of Southeast Asia’s typical lash-lugged plank constructed boats around the region, especially in the southern peninsular Thailand, highlights the importance of local seafarers in the maritime trading networks during the 8th-10th century CE. This paper explores how shipwrecks off the coast of Thailand relate to the establishment of the ancient settlement patterns of the Suvaṇṇabhūmi from around 2 BCE to 10 CE.