Tam Hang Rockshelter: Preliminary Study of a Prehistoric Site in Northern Laos

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ISSN: 0066-8435

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Demeter, Fabrice; Sayavongkhamdy, Thongsa; Patole-Edoumba, Elise; Coupey, Anne-Sophie; Bacon, Anne-Marie; De Vos, John; Tougard, Christelle; Bouasisengpaseuth, Bounheuang; Sichanthongtip, Phonephanh; Duringer, Philippe
Laos; Tam Hang; rockshelter; Pleistocene; early Holocene; lithic industry; pottery
artifact description
In February 1934, Jacques Fromaget, from the Geological Service of Indochina, discovered the Tam Hang site in northern Laos. The site is a rockshelter, located on the southeastern slope of the Annamitic Chain on the edge of the P’a Hang cliff. The geologist’s excavation revealed considerable faunal remains from the middle Pleistocene as well as human biological and cultural remains from the pre-Holocene period. One of the human skeletons discovered by Fromaget buried beneath the shelter has recently been radiocarbon-dated to 15,740G80 b.p. After being relocated by Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, an international team carried out new excavations in April 2003. Undisturbed cultural layers from the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene have been identified. The presence of pottery and a lithic industry suggests the use of the site from at least the late Pleistocene into the Holocene. This particularity confers on the site a character rarely found in mainland Southeast Asia. This preliminary study describes the 2003 excavation, the cultural elements found, and presents the historical and archaeological significance of the site in the international context of the quest for human origins that prevailed in the 1930s.