The Dong Son Culture was first discovered in the province of Thanh Hoa in 1924 and the term of “Dong Son Culture” became officially in use in 1934. Nevertheless, several relics of the Dong Son Culture had been known earlier by many Vietnamese.
Prior to the August Revolution in 1945, most of these findings and researches were carried out by foreigners. Anyhow, these works had to some extent highlighted the typical features of the Dong Son Culture and pointed out some notions about its origins and dates on the one hand and clearly explained some ornamental patterns on bronze things of that period on the other.
Heger type I drum (Ngoc Lu II), Bronze, Dong Son Culture 2.500 – 2000BC, found in Ngoc Lu village, Ha Nam Province
No until the total liberation of North Vietnam did the fact finding work and research on the Dong Son Culture by Vietnamese specialists begin. Under the light of the new researching methods and through the checking of the relics and the appraisal of the collections of object, Vietnamese archaeologists have turned aware of the importance of the Dong Son Culture in the historical evolution of the nation. This awareness is all the more consolidated thanks to research conference about Kings Hung during the 60’s and 70’s of the previous century. The Dong Son Culture has been unanimously reaffirmed as material bases for the birth of the first State of the dynasty of Kings Hung.
So far, the sphere of disturbing this culture has been defined in a region lying between the three big rivers – the Hong (for the delta provinces of North Vietnam, the Ma (for Thanh Hoa province) and the Ca (for Nghe An province).
Jar, Bronze, Dong Son Culture, 2.500 – 2000BC, found in 1961 in Dao Thinh commune, Yen Bai Province
The Dong Son Culture came into being and magnificently developed on the foundations of a long process of convergence of the earlier cultures. The basic origin for the formation of the Dong Son Culture lies in such stages as Pre-Dong Son with its two main branches – Phung Nguyen Dong Son in the delta of the Hong (Red River) and Con Chan Tien Dong Son at the junction of the Ma and Chu Rivers. The metallurgical techniques and bronze casting during this period attained perfection. The bronze things of the Dong Son Culture cannot be mistaken with any other archaeological cultures in the world. The Dao Thinh bronze cylindrical jar found in Yen Bai province has to some extent shed light on the level of bronze casting and the ornamental art of the people in the Dong Son Age. This is the biggest and most beautiful among the findings of the same kind with lids. On these covers, there are some ornamental patterns reflecting the gastronomical thoughts of the rice- growing residents.
Bronze container, Dong Son Culture, 2.500 – 2000BC, found in Dong Son district, Thanh Hoa Province
Through their process of study, the circle of Vietnamese archaeologists have classified the collection of findings of the Dong Son Culture into the following main types:
- Weapons: axes, spears, lancers, combative hammers, arrows and shields;
- Productive tools: axes, ploughshares, hoes, reaping knives;
- Daily instruments for living: jars, vases, trays, plates, ladles and spoons;
- Musical instruments: bells, drums and global tiny bells;
- Ornamental articles: bracelets, ear-rings, necklaces, brooches and belt buckles.
Bronze drums are typical of the Dong Son Culture. They are big and well-shaped and show a high level of craftsmanship and art. The diversified pattern are not only ornamental items but also pictures faithfully portraying the locals and their living conditions during the period of building the country. The things buried with their masters are really the miniature of their real lives in the underworld, which helps us to better understand the material and spiritual lives of the inhabitants in the Dong Son Age.
Dagger, bronze, Dong Son Culture, 2.500 – 2000BC, found in Dong Son district, Thanh Hoa Province
With eighty years’ research on the Dong Son Culture, scientists have put forwards many valuable conclusions. The affirmation for the existence of an archaeological culture of Dong Son has resulted in numerous lively discussions. The Dong Son Culture has been put into the common context of Southeast Asia.
The greatest scientific achievements made by foreign scholars consist in the confirmation of the Dong Son relics as scientific awareness on the one hand and the Type-I bronze drums (such as the Ngoc Lu Bronze Drum) are called the Dong Son Drums on the other. The brass articles displayed in the museums across the world like those in Belgium, France and Sweden, ect., have been denominated as the brass articles of Dong Son.
Weapon, bronze, 2.500 – 2000BC
Through various excavations, Vietnamese scientists have managed to convincingly prove the relations between the Dong Son culture and the other ancient ones.
The reciprocal influences between the Dong Son and the Dien Cultures of the Sa Huynh Culture and the other ancient cultures in the delta of the Mekong River have been getting clearer and clearer with every passing day.
The Dong Son drums show a close relationship between the Dong Son culture and the other cultures in Southeast Asian mainland, especially those of the islands. The sphere of distribution of the Dong Son drums can be found everywhere in Southeast Asia, except for the Philippines.
On the abundant basis of the archaeological documents and other writings, the fact- findings work of the Dong Son culture has become more profound, all around and more appropriated. In addition to such archaeological matters as the cultural identity, dates, ages, types of locality, origins and multi-lateral cultural relations of the Dong Son Culture, many research works have dealt with the level of production, social relations and the contemporary social organizations.
Although archaeologists and historians have managed to put forwards and solve numerous issues relating to the Dong Son Culture, yet a lot of others have stayed unanswered or have solved unsatisfactorily; therefore the Dong Son Culture has kept on attracting the concern and passion of numerous researchers, domestic and foreign alike.
By Dr. Ngô Thế Phong - Nguyễn Thúy Hà
Source: Vietnam Antiques Magazine, No.3/2003