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.
3. The life of Dong Son people
3.1. Inhabitance and housing styles
- Dong Son people were able to adapt to the natural conditions and living environment. They occupied the separated residential areas or the combined complex of residence and burial.
- From the hole made for pole and the wooden pile found through excavations, together with the image of stilt house with curved roof patterns decorated in the bronze drums, we can say that their houses were at stilt type. This also matches with the assumption that it made the convenience for moving from mountainous areas to the lower lands or wet and muddy areas and rivers.
- Through archaeological documents wrote about the boat shape caskets and the decorations on bronze drums, we know their life on boats is naturally to conform to the environmental conditions of rivers, fishery and water transportation.
The ruin of stilt house, excavation in Dong Son, Thanh Hoa (1961)
The image of boat decorated on the bronze drum
The boat decoration on Dao Thinh Jar
3.2. The burial ways
- Earth tombs are digging tombs used for the dead to be buried without caskets, appeared in the cultures pre Dong Son and continued to be used in Dong Son period.
The earth tomb (Dai Trach, Bac Ninh).
- The trunk tomb or boat shape casket was popular and representative for Dong Son culture.
The Chau Can boat shape casket (Phu Xuyen, Hanoi)
The Yen Bac boat shape casket (Ha Nam)
- The bound bamboo caskets were made of bamboo splints and tightened with bamboo strings. The caskets were buried in digging earth.
- The bamboo kennel caskets had 2 styles. First caskets were made of big bamboo split bars, tightening the body. The seconds are bamboo stick; 2m long, fixed together to tight the body, and then covered by wooden sticks outside.
- The jar burials were single or two jars laid on each other, as the jars were not so big for a whole body, and also no found of ashes, we can say those were for disentomb.
- Bath/drum/jar and other bronze vessels used to be caskets or ash holding, representative is Dao Thinh jar.
Van Thang bronze jar (Phu Tho)
3.3. Working life
In tropical environment, Dong Son people maintained the natural exploitation as hunting, harvesting and fishing, together with wet rice agriculture, gardening, husbandry and handicraft, especially, the iron casting.
- The agriculture, particularly the wet rice cultivation was reasonably developed. Many samples of rice, straw, husk, burned rice were found in the archaeological sites of previous and Dong Son culture.
The agricultural tools made of bronze and iron (particularly the plough, pickaxe, shovel, spade and sickle...) have been found in big quantities, revealing the process of cultivation of the ancient people.
Ceramic jar, Dinh Trang relic
Pottery cooking pot, Phu Luong relic
The husbandry and taming the cattle, raising the vegetables and fruit had been developed and served for the living.
Bronze deer statue
+ The iron casting reached the highest level of art. One phenomenon is Dong Son bronze drums. Others can be musical instruments, weapons, accessories, labor tools, house wares...The bronze casting had been known in Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau and Go Mun cultures; now, it reached the top level of development. How they processed the casting left in many objects, for example, the stone sample forms, earthen wares, iron cooking pot sample. Attentively, the sample form of casting made for the arrow and the bronze.
Co Loa bronze drum
Hop Minh bronze jar (Yen Bai)
Dong Son weapon
Kiln ruin for bronze arrow (Co Loa)
+ The ceramic handicrafts
It had been seen since the previous cultures and to be continued, developed and played an important role in Dong Son civilization. The ceramics were rich in types, models and decorations on inheriting the traditional technique and fine arts.
+ The carpentry used to carve the wooden products, bamboo and rattan to be agricultural tools, working tools, weapons, housing and house wares (trays, bowls, cups, plates, pillows, combs...). Particularly, hundreds of trunk caskets were made in high quality.
+ Go along with the carpentry was the lacquer making. Objects found are bowls for holding the lacquer, brushes for painting, other tools for making lacquer, lacquered house wares such as bowls, trays, cups, plates, oars...
Lacquered ware in Yen Bac boat casket (Ha Nam)
Lacquered samples in Yen Bac boat casket (Ha Nam)
+ Glass making was a new job in Dong Son culture. It was resulted from the exchange with Sa Huynh culture in the Middle.
On the other hand, there were some products of handmade like stone sculpture, weaving and textile.
Fabric sample (Dong Xa, Hung Yen)
Yen Bac sea-grass mat (Ha Nam)
3.4. Spiritual life
Dong Son people had developed the logical sciences (geometry, astronomy, iron casting, chemistry...), music, sculpture, architecture to express their concept on arts, material life, religion and belief, ceremony and the external world.
Foot belt collection, Lang Vac site (Nghe An)
Bead and bronze accessories, Dong Son culture
Bronze bell collection
Bronze dagger collection
Dong Son bronze axe
Obviously, Dong Son people had developed a culture that imbued with its national identity, diversity and beauty.
Dr. Nguyen Van Doan (Deputy Director, VNMH)
EN: Tran Trang