Dong Ba Hoe archaeological site located in village 5, Ham Duc commune, Ham Thuan Bac District, Binh Thuan province. It is also called Ba Que, Bau Hoe or Hoa Vinh but its official name is Dong Ba Hoe (Ba Hoe cave).
This site was ranked into national level relics in Novermber of 2000.
Dong Ba Hoe archaeological site, Binh Thuan province, Vietnam
Ba Hoe Cave was actually a sandy hill among many coastal ones. It used to have an area of 30 hectares. Many ancient tombs were excavated in the west of the cave. However, some areas of the cave had been cleared for constructing road and houses. We assume that the site now measures around 1 hectare.
Regarding geographical culture, Dong Ba Hoe is one in among many relics in this coastal line. To the north, it is located about 1 km far from Bau Vit relic, 2 km from Sa Ra relic, 8 km from Hong Son relic, from there, some pottery and objects of Sa Huynh culture were excavated. Just 1 or 2 km from south, there are Dong Trung and Phu Truong relic where the big jar coffins similar to Sa Huynh were found.
This cave was firstly found in 1920 on the excavation of the Road no. 1 made by the French. In H.Parmentier’s article on BEFEO in 1924, he stated that he had been informed by A.Sallet about the potential existence of a relic similar to Sa Huynh culture in a place near Phan Thiet. Later, in 1961, O.Janse provided more detailed information by presenting an onyx bead he found near Phan Thiet 12 km that close to Road no. 1. He also thought that there was possibly a jar coffin complex there. In 1971, H.Fontaine discovered a number of pottery samples in Hoa Vinh site and it was what Parmentier mentioned in 1924. Early 1975, H.Fontaine, J.Davidson and Hoàng Thị Thân made an excavation on that site which discovered traces of residence and buried jars and some objects. That excavation had created resources for the next researches.
After Vietnam’s reunification, the site was paid attention by many archaeologists. Investigations were implemented in 1979, 1980 and 1982. In 1984, a big excavation was done in an area of 300m2. They discovered layers of residence and tombs; the resident layer belonged to Bronze Age and the tomb layer belonged to Iron Age. It showed it had many cultural relationships with other relics, for example, Dong Chua relic in Dong Nai river region. In particular, the 2016 excavation of the Vietnam National Museum of History has consolidated and contributed new information and resource over the relic.
Result of researches and studies
The result of researches and studies over the last century provided a perspective of Dong Ba Hoe archaeological site, from the distribution space to characteristics, date or cultural relationships, to prove its importance of the relic in the pre-and proto-historic period in Southern Central region.
- Distribution space: Based on the articles of the French before 1975, and outcome documents of Vietnamese archaeologists after 1975, we can assume it took place in an area of around 10 hectares.
- Relic characteristics: Through general information about the relic and its objects, we can say Dong Ba Hoe was an ancient resident place. However, it was not merely a residence; but had many workshops, especially stone fabrication. Besides, we also found the tomb layer, thus, its relic characteristics belong to a relic of residence-workshop-tomb.
Tomb relic in excavation hole
Relationship between cultural layers and tomb layer: As we said, the site had both resident and tomb layer, so the question is what is the relationship between those two layers? Which one was earlier? As logically, if the tombs were built separately from the residence, the resident and tomb layer were at the same time, however, if the tombs were built at the same place with the residence, the tomb layer would be formed later. In our case, the tombs were done in the cultural layer, thus, we can see the tomb was later than the resident or the site had been the resident complex before to have been the cemetery.
Among the tombs that found, based on the objects found inside, we think there would be two stages of burial. We guess that there could be earthen burial layer under the pot burial layer that belonged to the early stage, could be the Neolithic period, and the pot burial could date to the Iron Age, for example the pot coffins with bronze objects excavated in 1984 or the one with a glass bead in 2016.
Regarding to the common date of the site:
On the most recent excavation, we saw the appearance of New Stone Age element was quite big. Or, the resident layer and the early tomb layer could date back to 3500-3000 BP, and the later burial layer could date back to the Iron Age, around 2500 BP.
Pottery pot and stone axe of Dong Ba Hoe site
Regarding cultural relationship:
Initially, it had some similarities with other Southeast sites as Doc Chua, Da Kai or An Son, Loc Giang. Some cultural elements of Xom Con culture (Central region) also found there, for example, some polychrome pottery items or samples of clam (sea creature). However, the characteristics of Sa Huynh culture like jar burial, polychrome pottery or its jewelry such as earrings with two animal-heads or three notches weren’t seen. So, we can hypothesize that before Sa Huynh culture reached to the southern region of the Central, there had already existed an ancient community with a stable cultural layer that closer to the Southeast cultural space. Later, though it could be affected by Sa Huynh, it still developed its own specialties. This can be the reason why many scholars proposed to call the sites in Ninh-Binh Thuan including My Tuong, Hon Do or Ba Hoe to be South Sa Huynh, to discriminate with Sa Huynh sites in the Central.
Some issues need to be addressed:
Many issues need to be addressed over this relic, such as:
- Damage to the relic happens very often, for example, illegal excavations of the sand and encroaching of the urban area.
- The relic has no independent management board and no suitable planning or protection measures. Though it is a national relic, its management is under the commune's governance.
- No programs for promoting the values of the relic
Some proposals to protect and promote the values of the relic:
- An overall study needs to be done for a full analysis on the relic.
- A wall needs to be built to cover the relic area.
- Need to prepare a planning and management board to protect and promote the values of the relic
- Collaborate with scholars to study and make a document dossier of the relic which collects and comprises all materials about previous excavations.
Results of the researches and studies on Dong Ba Hoe site are very important for discovering pre-Sa Huynh culture period in Southern Central. It could be an original relic, or key site, to make preference for studying pre- and proto-historic culture in Binh Thuan province.
Studying traces of workshops enable us to understand the stone manufacture process, material source, product and technique. Studying resident traces enable us to know about the common life of ancient people. How they cooked with pottery wares, eating, weaving, agriculture or fishery. And traces of burial reveal the fact of burial rituals, earthen or jar coffin. Studying Dong Ba Hoe site contributed to paint a picture of Stone-Iron Age in the Southern Central.
The explanation or analysis over the above cultural values in a vivid way will attract not only scholars but also common people, in particular young generation. It is also a fact that the right excavations together with good communication to local people have raised a good awareness and made them joined to the conservation and protection activities for the relic site.
Nguyen Van Doan - Truong Dac Chien
EN: Tran Trang