During its latest survey mission in Koh Lanta Bay from 6 to 13 March 2021, the French archaeological mission in Thailand-Burma Peninsula uncovered new archaeological sites containing remains and paintings from thousands of years ago.
The French archaeological mission to Thailand-Burma peninsula, under the direction of Bérénice Bellina (CNRS-Ministry of Foreign Affairs), aimed at launching the study of the relationship between some marine nomadic groups of South-East Asia and the mountains and caves close to the shores.
Southeast Asia is home to several of these nomadic groups, which are spread out off and along the coasts of Burma, Indonesia and as far as the Philippines. A book about them will be published in June 2021 with the contribution of researchers from the PALOC unit. It will be the first to focus on these marine nomads in history with a cross-approach between archaeology and ethnology.
These nomads settled at the end of passageways or off the coast of former warehouse ports used by ships on the Silk Roads, which were already in use at the beginning of the Christian era. This project focuses more specifically on the Urak Lawoi, who are now sedentary and constitute one of the least documented groups of marine nomads in southern Thailand.
Through the joint use of archaeology and anthropology, this project intends to understand the occupation, use and representations of mountains and island or coastal caves in order to better document the regional history and interactions between maritime populations, ancient coastal cities and long-distance trading networks linked to the Maritime Silk Roads.
The prospecting mission proved particularly fruitful with the discovery of several rock shelters decorated with multi-millennial paintings and in which numerous material remains (pottery, animal and human bones) were also found. The researchers also uncovered a coastal site particularly rich in archaeological material associated with trade.
The team has also established good relations with several Urak Lawoi communities and has begun to study their oral traditions to complement the analyses that will be made of the archaeological remains discovered nearby. The long-term goal is also to implement a heritage and community archaeology project involving several French and Thai research institutions.
The team consisted of Sorachat Rotchanarat, archaeologist from the Fine Arts Department (FAD), Noel Hidalgo Tan, archaeologist and specialist in rock paintings from the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO SPAFA) and Olivier Evrard, anthropologist at the UMR PALOC (IRD-MNHN) and representative of IRD in Thailand.
This mission was financed by the Labex exploratory project "AMPIER" directed by Stéphane Rennesson (CNRS UMR7186) and Bérénice Bellina (CNRS UMR7055), both researchers associated with the UMR PALOC.