Vestiges of an ancient civilization in Dong Thap Muoi in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam have revealed the lifestyle and community of inhabitants over 2,000 years ago.
Covering a total area of 631,000 hectares in three provinces, Long An, Tien Giang and Dong Thap, the vast Dong Thap Muoi was a gulf back then, and over time silt has raised the land level to become part of the mainland.
From over 2,000 years ago until the 19th century, most of Dong Thap Muoi was just a flooded plain, except for a few mounds rising five to seven meters above sea level.
These mounds became the residential and worship places of ancient inhabitants.
The mounds located on the northern bank of the Hau River are not far from An Giang Province, the center of the ancient Oc Eo Culture that existed on the southern bank of the river.
While excavating one of the ancient mounds, named Go Thap, in Dong Thap Muoi, archeologists found numerous artifacts of inhabitants including samples of raw and colored ceramics, manipulated wood, jewelry, coal, animal bone, pestles, grindstones, cookers, and bowls.
The vestiges were found at both mounds and along creeks at the foot of the mounds. This proved that ancient people settled on both hills and valleys.
Archeologists also discovered that ancient people in Dong Thap Muoi knew how to build and live in stilt houses, said Doctor Le Thi Lien from the Institute of Archeology.
At the Vang (gold) and Phat (Buddha) ponds, long pillars with sharp points at one end were vertically pitched deep into mud. The other end of the pillars has holes to install crossbeams for building houses.
Dr. Lien confirmed that ancient people settled in Go Thap in Dong Thap Muoi many centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ until the seventh century, after which the Oc Eo Culture faded.
At Go Thap, archeologists found vestiges of nonnative artifacts such as terra-cotta, ceramics, and glass beads imported from the northern region.
This proves that Dong Thap Muoi was a center of trade and a stop for foreign boats on their routes from Indonesia and Malaysia to China and Japan.
“So, Dong Thap Muoi was developed more than what we knew before,” Dr. Lien concluded.
Along with the presence of ancient people many centuries ago, the Phu Nam Kingdom was born in the first century before Christ and lasted till the seventh century. Its termination was the result of internal upheavals and the rise of surrounding rival ethnic groups.
Another factor adding to the decline of the Phu Nam Kingdom and Oc Eo Culture was the development of maritime technology which allowed people to build bigger ships that could travel farther and did not need a ‘transit venue’ to stop by.
Then, Phu Nam could control the eastern part of the coast, the Me Nam Valley in Thailand in the west, and the northern part of the Malaysian peninsula in the south.
Residents in Dong Thap Muoi had developed skills in the production of bricks, ceramics, and metallurgy.
Initially, Dong Thap Muoi was an alluvial plain when sea water went down over 2,000 years ago.
Ethnic Malays and Indonesians, who were good at trade, and Mon-Khmer skilled at farming began occupying the area. They came from Dong Nai and Can Gio to the north of Dong Thap Muoi and the Malaysian peninsula to the south.
Religious dignitaries from India also came to spread Buddhism and Hinduism.
That explains why residents in Dong Thap Muoi worship gods and the Buddha in accordance with Indian culture, especially during the peak period of 1,400 years from the second century before the birth of Christ till the 12th century.
It is evidenced by the fact that many wooden Buddha statues were found in the area.