Ancient burial boat unearthed



HA NOI — A joint Australian-Vietnamese archaeological team has unearthed a well-preserved burial boat belonging to the Dong Son culture that resided in the Red River region around 100BC.

The boat was discovered at Dong Xa Village in Kim Dong District in the northern province of Hung Yen during the team’s recent excavations investigating Dong Son textiles at waterlogged sites.

Members of the team regard it as an important find and, according to Professor Peter Bellwood of Australian National University, it may be the oldest existing log canoe in southeast Asia.

The coffin contained pottery and copious quantities of prehistoric matting and textiles which reveal a great deal about the role of cloth in Dong Son burials, said Dr Judith Cameron, head of the team.

The team’s excavations are the first phase of a project of archaeological co-operation between the two countries funded by the Australian Research Council. The project brings together archaeologists from Australian National University, the Vietnamese Institute of Archaeology and the Centre for Southeast Asian Prehistory in Ha Noi, and conservators of the National Museum of Australia.

Conservation technology and laboratory skills for preservation of Viet Nam’s heritage are a main element of the project. A senior conservator from the National Museum of Australia, Nicola Smith, was surprised at the good condition of the burial boat with the bark lid, textiles, matting and wood all well-preserved. Over the next year, conservators will impregnate the wood with polyethylene glycol to protect the artefact for future research and display in the Hung Yen Museum.

Australian ambassador Joe Thwaites said that he was impressed by these early and significant results.

"Australia recognises that Viet Nam has a rich, deep and diverse heritage," he said. "Following the successful conservation of the Em Thuy painting by the late Vietnamese late painter Tran Van Can by Australian conservator Caroline Fry last year, I am delighted to see growing technical and research co-operation between us in this important field of archaeology."

The team has also excavated the grave of a 2- or 3-year-old child at the Yen Bac site in Ha Nam Province, providing further information about the burial customs of the Dong Son culture. — VNS