This Earthwatch project aims to examine the complex relationships between the Ban Non Wat community and its environment - in particular, the causes and results of past environmental change. Covering over 1,100m² of excavated area, Ban Non Wat is one of the largest, longest-running, single archaeological projects in Southeast Asia. The project is working to understand neighbouring sites and their inter-relationships now as well with preliminary excavations completed at three nearby sites and many more identified for investigation.
Through unearthing middens (ancient rubbish pits) containing animal bones, fish and shellfish, as well as the associated graves, excavations have uncovered evidence of the first Neolithic farmers to settle in the region from approximately 4,000 years ago. While it is difficult to date directly, the Earthwatch scientist at the time, Professor Charles Higham, has argued that findings of “flexed” burials - where individuals are positioned on their sides with the legs bent - may represent even earlier hunter-gatherer occupants of Ban Non Wat. The finding of a concentration of animal bone and shellfish has been dated as far back as 15,000 years.
In higher stratigraphic layers, graves containing copper-based jewelry and tools date the first use of metals in the region at between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago. There are three significant findings for this period. Firstly, early metals are appearing in later layers than previously expected. Secondly, preliminary analyses of the earliest metal tools suggest that a significant Copper Age preceded the Bronze Age. Thirdly, the early Metal Age (whether Copper or Bronze) includes very large graves with many pots and other grave goods suggesting this period was more socially complex than previously thought.
A notable individual find during the 2009/10 field season has been the discovery of an approximately 2,000 year-old dog burial. This is the second well-preserved dog burial from the site and from similar Iron Age levels. A third small puppy skeleton was discovered in 2009. It seems that this tradition of dog burials may have continued throughout the prehistoric occupation of Ban Non Wat, indicating that these dogs were important and familiar animals in the community.
The Earthwatch project directly benefits the current population of Ban Non Wat with many local people employed on the project. A community learning centre has also been developed as a collaboration between the people of Ban Non Wat, the National Research Council of Thailand, the Fine Arts Department of Thailand and Nakhon Ratchasima Rajhabhat University.
Ban Non Wat Blog
Boyd, W.E. (2008) Social change in late Holocene mainland SE Asia: A response to gradual climate change or a critical climatic event? Quaternary International, 184: 11-23.
Higham, C.F.W. & Higham, T.G. (2009) A New Chronological Framework for Prehistoric Southeast Asia, Based on a Bayesian Model from Ban Non Wat. Antiquity, 83: 125-144.
McGrath, R.J., Boyd, W.E. & Bush, R.T. (2008) The paleohydrological context of the Iron Age floodplain sites of the Mun River Valley, Northeast Thailand. Geoachaeology: An International Journal,23: 151-172.