Dong Son culture has been discovered and researched for the past 90 years. The culture is said to be the foundation to set up the first kingdom of the ancient Vietnam.
The Vietnam National Museum of History has carried out many researches and excavations and exhibitions on Dong Son culture. Those activities have brought audiences new knowledge and information about this culture through many excavated objects. We have secured hundreds of collections of many kinds of materials. For example, a collection of bronze drums (drums found in Central Highlands, miniatures of drum in Thanh Hoa, Yen Bai and Lao Cai), collections of plates and lamp statues in shape of animal (elephant, bull) and human and many collections of weapons and jewelries.
Especially, we paid high attention to a bronze thap situla excavated on the bank of Hong River at Dao Xa archaeological site. It is a medium size, bucket-shaped, slope downward to a narrow base, two handles but without lid. The patina is shiny and bright in green and copper yellow. The situla is almost perfect as original, excepting a small broken at the mouth's edge. It has a diameter of 25cm at top, and 22cm at base, 33cm height.
The Dao Xa bronze thap situla
From the top downward the bottom, the situla is carved with bands of lozenge shape and concentric circles, serrated chains... However, the most important and beautiful parts of the situla are two bands of patterns in upper and lower parts. The band of the upper part decorated the "Chim Lac" bird and peafowl in the posture of flying or standing, with long or short beaks holding big fishes and a long stylized neck... which is considered as symbol for a high class.
Decoration of bird with long beak and band of concentric circles
In the lower part, there is a decoration of human world with figures of dancers (in a seasonal ceremony). The man is decorated with bird's feathers dancing in a counterclockwise direction (as a typical characteristic of the Dongsonians). The ceremony is also a show for musical instruments and weapons. Particularly, a small but very important pattern is a present of "Chim Lac" bird flying as a leading guide for human actions.
Figures of feathered dancers and band of lozenge shape and serrated chains
Basically, the decorative motif on this situla is similar to that on drums of the group of the early drums (Hoang Ha drum). However, the specialty is that this is the first time we found that motif to be described on a thap situla – one of the most typical objects represented for the Dong Son culture.
The bronze thap of the Dongsonians was well-known for the situla called Dao Thinh thap. It is famous for its large size and special decorations and the round figurines fixed on the lid that expressed the people's fertility rites. By this Dao Xa situla, it helps us to know about the spiritual life of the ancient Vietnamese people in over 2000 years ago. However, this prominent example is not quite a strange item in a diversity and unity of Dong Son culture.
Decoration of bird, serrated chains and lozenge shapes and concentric circles
The bronze thap was a kind of utensil that was very common in the living of the Dongsonians. It could be used as a domestic ware or ceremonial or funeral purposes..., but furthermore, it was a product of spiritual life, an object for expressing the ancient people's soul and desire, and a depiction of their philosophy. And therefore, the Dong Son culture is a potential source for further discoveries.
Dr. Nguyen Van Doan (Deputy Director of the VNMH)
EN: Tran Trang