Monday, May 24, 2010

The ghosts of Ban Chiang

We didn't do a lot of touristy stuff in Udon Thani, but we did make it out to one remarkable place: the Ban Chiang archeological site, about an hour west of downtown.

The people of Ban Chiang produced distinctive red-patterned ceramics. In fact, it was the pots working their way to the surface, like flags of an underground nation, that alerted a grad student to the presence of an ancient settlement in the late 1960s.

The people of Ban Chiang scattered pots over the bodies as part of their burial ritual. The earliest graves are believed to date back to 2100 BC. They suggest that Southeast Asia, previously thought to be a bit sluggish at developing Bronze Age tools, actually reached that landmark at a pretty respectable pace.

Afterward we walked around the little town with our heads full of bones. Lots of Ban Chiang houses are on stilts, making them look a bit like Maine or North Carolina beach houses, which added to the pleasant jumble of continents and millennia in my brain.

All the manhole covers in town are painted with patterns from the ancient pottery, which is a nice touch.

Lunch was a bowl of vegetable soup with wide, fried noodles at the bottom. It wasn't spicy, but the accompanying jar of chopped chilis in vinegar certainly was!

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