The Bronze Age in Northern Vietnam

By: Francis Allard

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Bronze artifact from Hanoi

During the month of July, I spent one week in Hanoi (Vietnam) with a colleague who teaches at another university. Our objective was to meet with archaeologists at the Institute of Archaeology of Vietnam to discuss the establishment of a new project that focuses on the development of Bronze Age societies in northern Vietnam, from the earliest evidence of bronze metallurgy in that area (in about 1200 BCE) to the last centuries of the first millennium BCE (at which point large complex bronzes such as drums were being manufactured). Although I’ve worked mostly in southern China since the 1990s, I’ve also made multiple trips to northern Vietnam over the past 25 years. My interest in the archaeology of that area is in fact not surprising, since these two adjoining areas (southern China and northern Vietnam) share many cultural traits with one another.

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Dog with a 2,000 year old decorated brick (village near Hanoi, Vietnam)

While in Vietnam, my colleague and I also met with a number of archaeologists at universities and museums, visits which resulted in us gaining access to over 20 bronze artifacts or fragments dating to the period we’re interested in. As you can see in the photos, it’s possible (and sometimes preferable) to work with incomplete artifacts or even small fragments (as long as we know which type of artifact it came from). We were given permission to take these objects out of Vietnam and are planning to conduct XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analysis on them to determine their copper, tin and lead content, information that can then be used to understand how knowledge of metallurgy was transmitted among craft specialists and adapted to meet local conditions. Following the completion of the XRF analysis, our plan it to return to Vietnam to do the same with additional bronze objects and to discuss with our Vietnamese colleagues the future expansion of the project to include field activities.

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