Dong Son Culture is one of three well-known archaeological cultures that contributed to form the first administrative state of Vietnam. The first site was accidentally discovered in 1924 at Dong Son village (Thanh Hoa province). In 1934, R. Heine-Geldern, an archaeologist, proposed to take a name of Dong Son Culture.
So far, 90 years since the first discovery and through a number of studies, many aspects of Dong Son culture have been revealed. Dong Son culture was regarded to be existed during the 7th century B.C up to the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D in wide and spreading areas of the North of Vietnam to Quang Binh province (Central), with focused distribution around the Red River, Ma and Ca Rivers.
Maps of Dong Son culture sites in Red River
Maps of Dong Son cultures sites in Ma River
Maps of Dong Son cultures sites in Ca River
Hundreds of sites and a great number of objects are regarded as evidences for the origin of Dong Son culture. It was born, developed and continued from the previous cultures of Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau and Go Mun cultures; and it made the foundation for the establishment of Dai Viet Civilization. Dong Son culture had provided the resource conditions and regarded as the "image" for the Van Lang – Au Lac state, that was formed and developed in the North of Vietnam, as in the common tendency in the South East Asian region, 2000 years ago.
Excavation in Dong Lam site (Bac Giang, 1968)
Excavation in Lang Ca (Phu Tho)
Slide cutting of Co Loa citadel site
1. Chronology and periods of development
The chronology of Dong Son culture is said to be the 7th century B.C and ending at the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, divided into 3 stages:
- The early stage of Dong Son culture (7th – 6th centuries B.C) was developed as resulted on the previous cultures, almost distributed in the mountainous areas, midland and deltas.
- The middle stage of Dong Son culture (5th – 3rd centuries B.C) was developed in large areas with extensions to the rivers and deltas. In this period, the economy of Dong Son was very progressive. It was time for bronze drums of Ngoc Lu, Hoang Ha, Mieu Mon to be appeared, together with the boat shape caskets and grave goods in materials of wood, bamboo...
- The late stage of Dong Son culture (1st – 2nd centuries B.C to the 1st – 2nd centuries AD) developed and exchanged greatly with foreign cultures. It distributed in the deltas next to the rivers and the sea. Objects imported from China were found.
- The higher and new delta was the transitional geographical area between the midland and the plain, closed to the main rivers of Hong River, Ma and Ca Rivers. The sites of Dong Son culture which located in bigger and higher areas, had higher density of objects, show the long inhabitance, are said to be the places to found the centers.
- The lower and new deltas, were the newer land, and suffered from many changes of natural conditions in the prehistoric time. The sites were distributed in high density. Almost objects are boat shape tombs (caskets), distributed in the low and sunken areas (ponds, fields, canals) next to the rivers and affluent.
- The new and coastal deltas were next to the sea (Haiphong, Quangninh). Because of its position as facing to the sea and having the thickened density of rivers, it imported the Chinese culture.
Briefly, the sites of Dong Son culture were distributed in diversified geography; in a tendency to move from the mountainous and midland areas towards the lower plains and coastal areas. The number of sites in the late stage was increased compared to that in the previous stages. Also at this stage, the important and bigger centers were established.
Dr. Nguyen Van Doan (Deputy Director, VNMH Museum)
EN: Tran Trang