Hoabinhian Food Strategy in Vietnam [8/6/2008]
New Page 1
Paper presented in SEAEAA conference in Sigtuna, Sweden 2002 and
published in "SEA Archaeology" W.Solheim festschrift book, Manila, 2004
Hoabinhian food strategy
Since 1982, influenced by Chester Gorman’s (Professor Solheim’s first
graduate student) excavation in Spirit Cave (Thailand) I began micro studies
of archaeological remains aimed at studying Hoabinhian food strategies
Beside traditional digging methods, all sediment in Xom Trai and Con Moong
caves were carefully recovered through seaving and sorting using a
microscope. These methods brought us many thousands of different meal
remains of animals as well as plants, which allowed us to carry out a
quantitative research to determine Hoabinhian food strategies in Vietnam.
Some new Interpretations on Hoabinhian concerning to Food Exploitation
Chronology and Evolution
Radiocarbon dating for
classic typical Hoabinhian
In some of my recent publications (Viet 1989, 2000, 2001a-b) I have shown
believable evidence of early Hoabinhian sites ca. 20,000 BP. This is
mainly based on the results of my re-excavating in 1986-1987 of the most
important Hoabinhian sites in Vietnam i.e., Xom Trai, Lang Vanh, Hang Muoi,
Con Moong and Sung Sam. Nearly a hundred samples for radiocarbon dating
were collected, and half of these were processed in the radiocarbon dating
laboratory in former East Berlin. Radiocarbon samples in many different
Hoabinhian sites in Vietnam were re-examined and re-measured. Working with
the laboratory in Berlin, we dated and identified a classic and typical
Hoabinhian system existed about ten thousand years older than the
traditionally accepted time depth. The valley Muong Vang in province Hoa
Binh, where three typical Hoabinhian sites (Xom Trai, Lang Vanh, Hang Muoi)
are located, is recognized as the homeland of Hoabinhian in Vietnam. The
tool-kits of Hoabinhan here are very typical for the so called classic
Hoabinhian, which were recovered and determined by Madalene.Colani more
than 70 years ago.
At Xom Trai cave, we collected a total of 32 organic samples, of which 15
are charred fragments of Juglans spp. nut covers. The rest are shells
of stream snail Antimelania spp. Almost all radiocarbon dates
confirm the first Hoabinhian occupation at ca.18,500 BP. In the same valley,
other Hoabinhian caves ( Xom Tre and Lang Vanh), those located around 2 km
to 4 km southwards from Xom Trai existed contemporarily with Xom Trai. Their
14C dates for the upper
stratigraphic layers were at 16 to 17,000 BP (Viet 1989, 2001). The
radiocarbon dates for Hoabinhian sites in Muong Vang valley supports a very
early occupation of Hoabinhian inhabitants in this area. They represent the
early typical Hoabinhian.
Radiocarbon dating for
Almost all un-typical
Hoabinhian sites in Vietnam have radiocarbon date ranges of 13,000 to 8,000
BP. The re-excavation at Con Moong in 1986-1987 made by Nguyen Viet brought
in light many reliable radiocarbon dates. Those
ages confirmed the existence of a deeper Hoabinhian chronological sequence.
Except for some sites, for example at Hang Muoi, most cases sites contain a
poor and untypical Hoabinhian tool-kit. They represented a Hoabinhian
developing in more difficult conditions at later phases, when the Hoabinhian
under the presure of increasing population enlarged their food exploiting
areas, further from their homelands. Because of this, two Hoabinhian
subsistence systems developed. One was richer and earlier as we could see,
for example, in the homeland Muong Vang valley. It existed in a moist and
cooler environment. Another one was poorer, particulary in tool-kit
development, and lived in a warmer, even hot condition. The relationship
between the two Hoabinhian systems will be discussed again below.
The earliest Hoabinhian evidence in Vietnam might be found in Tham Khuong
cave (prov. Lai Chau), where we have 14C
and ESR dates of ca.32,000 BP. However we have relatively few materials on
this group. We believe that such earlier Hoabinhian sites could be found
also in the Hoabinh province. Till now, in this province, the earliest
Hoabinhian occupations were discovered only in the Muong Vang valley
with. three Hoabinhian typical sites (Xom Trai, Lang Vanh, Xom Tre). Their
14C dates have a range of
18,500 to 16,000 BP. The Muong Vang valley was recognized as the best
Hoabinhian locality, where with a padadisiac condition man could get easyly
naturaly formed pebbles suitable for tool making, and could collect abundant
food at all seasons of the year. They belong to the richer Hoabinhian
and their living area became the homeland of Hoabinhian culture (Viet
The Hoabinhian distribution shows that later Hoabinhian sites representing
the poor Hoabinhians (Con Moong, Hang Dang, Sung Sam, Dong Cang, Mai
Da Dieu and Hang Chua), are located outside the center of the Hoabinhian
stone source. There is increasing evidence of Hoabinhian sites at the
transition period from the Pleistocene to the Holocene.
The paradisiac condition in the “gold valley” at Muong Vang may have
caused populations to increase and this increase resulted to the need to
enlarge the food exploitation areas. The case of Hang Muoi is a good example
for later Hoabinhian increasing in the homeland region. The enlarging
food exploitation into the more difficult areas created the existences of
poor Hoabinhian sites such as Con Moong, Sung Sam, Dong Cang. They
belonged to the enlarging Hoabinhian later system. This enlarging
process began at ca. 13,000 BP.
Of the Hoabinhian enlarging movements there were some Hoabinhian groups,
whose food strategy was mainly gathering mollusc in swamp and lake
condition. Their meal remains built the open air shell middens nearby
traditional Hoabinhian valley regions. That is the case of Da But site. The
first Hoabinhian occupation at Da But happened perhaps at 8000 to 9000 years
BP. The Hoabinhian tried here a new way of living in a new environmental
condition, that corresponded to warming and raining Holocene
climate.However, the Hoabinhian in Da But did not live in caves or
rockshelter, but in cottages or simple houses. Wood or bamboo working became
more intensive than before. Edge polishing tools and ceramic were used more
popularly in Da But way of life. The nomadic life in the mountains resulted
in the absence of burial fields. In Da But, however, the dead were buried
usually nearby cottages or houses. This is evidence for a settled way of
life. Since the Da But period, the Hoabinhian culture had an open door to
transform towards a Neolithic way of life (Viet 1984, 2002).
Sea level changing during Hoabinhian
Hoabinhian existed for around 14,000 years (from ca. 20,000 to 6,000 BP).
This time corresponds to the changes of the sea level and the global climate
from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the present climate and sea level.
As the Hoabinhian occupied
the Muong Vang valley, the sea level was at ca. –150m to -120 m. The
temporal shoreline was ca 200 m to 400 m far from the Hoabinhian homeland
(Chen et al 1985; Ty et al 1985; Viet 2001a).
According to Nakata & Lambeck (1988) the sea level arose
relatively slow during 18,000 - 20,000 BP, but became rapid during 12,000 to
6000 BP. This is supported by new data of Fairbanks curve. In the Malacca
Strait, Gegh et al (1979) recognized the sea level at 12,000 BP
corresponding to - 80m and at 6,000 arose to the highest level (+ 6 m). The
same situation had been recorded also in Japan, New Zealand and Australia
(Nakata & Lambeck 1988) as well as in East China Sea (Chen et al 1985). The
14C- dates of some inundated shorelines in Hong Kong show the sea level got
to present level at about 6,000 BP. (Meacham 1978). The boring hole ND1 in
North Vietnam shows evidence that the sea was at 12,000 BP to –45 m (Shigeko
2001). Radiocarbon date at Ha Lung cave (North Viet Nam) stated that before
6000 BP fresh water snails were collected in this region, where at present
is - 10 - 20 m under water (Viet 1989). More recent research confirmed the
middle Holocene highest sea level (+4m to +5m) in Vietnam occured during
6,000 – 5,000 BP (Viet 2002; Thuan 2002; Tiep 1998).
The changes of sea level in the last 20,000 years led the
markable reduction of living surface for the Hoabinhian (Bellwood 1985).
However it happened in Vietnam only in some traditional Hoabinhian food
exploiting areas, for example, in Ha Long Bay. The reduction of the
Hoabinhian living surface occured only in the middle Holocene. Until now we
do not have evidence for a migration wave, due to raising sea levels, from
the “lower Hoabinhian“ into traditional Hoabinhian moutainous areas before
Mean Temperature during
at 20,000 - 15,000 BP was regarded as lowest during last 20,000 years. After
CLIMAP (1981) the mean sea surface temperature (SST) in South China
sea was ca 2 oC lower at present. Basing on pollen data in
Leizhou peninsula (Southern China), Zheng et al. (1999) estimated, that the
temperature at LGM in montane forest altitude 800m was ca. 4 o –
6 oC lower than today. The lapse rate here was 0,61 oC
per 100 m. After Zhang (1984), we could estimate that the mean temperature
in North Vietnam at LGM was 0 – 5oC in January and 25 oC
in July. Prell (1982) presented an isomap SST for the West Sunda sea, in
which north Viet Nam and South China Sea belong to the region having SST of
ca 24 oC in August (ca 4 oC lower than present). The
pollen record from Taiwan suggested the mean temperature at 24,000 - 14,000
BP was 2 to 6 oC lower than at present(Tsukada 1966). In Japan,
the pollen data confirmed that the mean temperature reduced 8 – 9 oC
in northern Hokkaido, 7,7 - 8,7 oC in Northern most Honshu, 7,2 -
8,4 oC in Central mountains, 6,5 oC in Chugoku
district and 5 – 6 oC in Kyushu (Tsukuda 1983). In the Yangtze
Delta, pollen data showed the mean temperature was below ca 5 oC
at LGM (Lin et al 1989).
For the case of southern Sunda, Verstappen (1975) proposed it
was 3 – 5 oC cooler while Peterson (1968) estimated the mean
temperature at Niah cave region in Wurm II glacial 5 – 7 oC lower
than at today, and rainfall reduced ca 30%. The pollen data taken by Stuijts
(1984) in west Java (Indonesia) yielded the evidences for the decrease of
mean temperature ca 5 – 6 oC lower than present during 16,800 -
According to Frenzel (1968) in the Wurm Glacial almost the
surface of the northern Hoabinhian region was covered by broad leaf
evergreen forest. After Aigner, this forest in China corresponds to a
climate, which’s temperature was about 5 oC lower than today. In
Vietnam, the pollen data recorded from Nguom rock shelter at ca 23,000 BP
and from Xom Trai cave (18,500 - 16,600 BP) included frequently some species
such as juglans spp., querous spp., salix spp.,
carpinus spp., lithocarpus spp., and minica spp..
These plant types correspond to a cool forest vegetation (or montane
forest II) which exist presently in altitudes of 1800 m to 2400m in Taiwan
and central Sumatra (see Tsukada 1966 and Morley 1982). The presence of
these species in the lower altitudes in Vietnam suggest a reducing of mean
temperature ca 5 – 8 oC lower than present
The palaeontological records supports this cooling. The fossils of
Ailuropoda were found in Vietnam at Phung Quyen rock shelter at ca.
18,000 BP and Pongo bones were recovered at Nguom rock shelter at
about 23,000 BP.
The macro plant remains collected from some Hoabinhian caves
show a relative clear change of the flora exploited by Hoabinhian
inhabitants during 18,500 to 8,000 BP.
In Xom Trai cave, 90% of total collected plant remains belong to
charred shells of a probably walnut (juglans) or gam (gnetum
sp), which can be seen today usualy in the high mountain forest. These
charred fragments were found also in Lang Vanh, Mai Da Dieu and Dong Cang.
They were used as ideal materials for radiocarbon dating. In Xom Trai, Lang
Vanh and Mai Da Dieu radiocarbon dates measured from these charcoal show
ages in range of 20,000 to 16,000 BP. In the later Hoabinhian sites, such
plant remains were total absent.
In Taiwan, Tsukada (1966) mentions a particular event in the
pollen history that : "near the top of zone M
Juglans cathayensis Dode suddenly appears, but decreases before the
M/R zonal boundary (ca. 12 - 10,000 BP - NV)." and "Juglans cathayensis,
associated with Cunninghamia [Konishii Hayata], may give a
reliable estimate of the mean temperature (lower by 2 oC – 6
oC) between ca. 25,000 and ca. 14,000 BP" (Tsukada 1966:547).
Juglans in Jihyuetans pollen history represented cool climate at LGM.
Presently this genus grows common in the cool-temperature forest at
altitudes from 1800 m to 2400 m in Taiwan.
Since 15,000 years ago sea temperature began to increase
corresponding to the rise of sea levels. From data of core V35-5 in South
China Sea (in 7 o12'N – 112 o5'E) and core SONNEN
50-37KL, in 18 o55'N – 115 o45'E, which located not
far from east margin of Sunda shelf (in 7 o12'N – 112 o5'E)
Broecker discovered the abruft termination of the last glacial, in
which distinct phases of sedimentation rate and productivity of foraminifera
organisms during 18,000 to 6000 BP were recognized. Phase I (from
18,000 - 13,000 BP) the sedimentation rate was rapid whilst the productivity
of foraminifera organisms was slow. In the phase II (from 13,000 to 6000 BP)
it is reverse, (Broecker et al 1990).
All pollen data, whether from northern part (Taiwan, by Tsukada
1966) or from southern part (east Malaysia and Sumatra, by Morley 1982,
Maloney 1986) or further southeast ward from New Guinea by Flenley (1979)
demonstrated a climatic rapid amelioration during 14,000 to 12,000 BP.
Morley, Flenley and Tsukada recorded apeak warming higher ca 2 oC
than at presentat 10 to 8000 BP in Sumatra, at 8000 BP in New Guinea and New
Zealand, and at about 6000 BP in Taiwan.
The climate changed also in Vietnam during 12,500 to 8,000 BP
(Nguyen Viet et al., 1988). At Con Moong, we recovered from cultural
sediment 2 a different assemblage of plant remains.
1- The earlier assemblage: From the lower layers, where
radiocarbon dated from 12,500 till 10,500 BP, humans collected nuts,
attested by the recovery of thousands of fragments of nut shells determined
as probable Aleurites spp. or Castanopsis spp..Such trees grow
today mainly in mountain regions of north Viet Nam.
spp. according Yen (1977) grows presently in Thailand high mountain forest,
whilst in a higher latitude (for example) in Taiwan, this genus is found in
the warm temperature forest 500 to 1800 m in altitude from sea level
(Tsukada 1966). In New Guinea this genus is seen frequently in lower
mountain forests — montane forest I at 1500 - 1800 m altitude (Fleney 1985;
see Morley 1982).
This kind of nut fragments had been associated frequently with
Celtis spp. stone cores in dried form. Celtis spp. cores
existed relatively common in the Hoabinhian sites. On a block of cemented
sediment brought by M.Colani from My Te cave
we have recognized 8 cores of Celtis, which were stucked on a broad
mammalian bone. Celtis is recorded also at Nguom, Xom Trai, Con
Moong. According to Yen (1977), Celtis dried cores were found in
Spirit cave, Thailand. Celtis is one of the characteristic species of
the sub-montane forest in Java — common at altitute ca. 1000 - 1400 m
(Morley 1982). In the some higher altitude, for example in Taiwan, Celtis
grows common in subtropical rain forest below ca. 500 m altitute (Tsukada
1966). Celtis pollen was recorded frequently at Zengpiyan cave
(northern Kwangzi) in the layers 9,000 - 7,000 BP (Wang, 1989).
2- The later assemblage : In the upper level of Con Moong
cave (from layers A4b to A2) occurred mostly fruit stones of Canarium
spp. while Juglans spp. was absent. The radiocarbon dates measured
associated with such plant remains showed a time depth of 10,500 BP to 8500
BP. Cannarium may be characterize for beginning of Holocene in
Vietnam as well as in Southeast Asia. Some of this kind of plantd were
determined by Yen as Canarium spp. or more confidently by Thin et al.
(1987) as Canarium tonkinensis Engl.. Canarium was recorded in
Dong Cang, Hang Muoi, Hang Doi and upper level of Mai Da Dieu. In the
Southeast Asian Hoabinhian context charred fragments of Canarium were
documented in Spirit cave, Tham Pa Chan, Banyan Valley cave (Yen 1977), and
Ongbah cave (Soerensen 1988). It's notable that almost all Canarium
remains found in Southeast Asia were younger than 11,000 BP
. This species is very common till now in Mainland Southeast Asia.
The seemly sudden explosion of Canarium in the vegetable
menu of Con Moong dwellers in the time span of 9,500 - 8,500 BP marked a
warmering phasein Vietnam, which is supported by evidence in Taiwan (Tsukada
1966), in Sumatra (Morley 1982) and in New Guinea (Fleney 1979, 1985). The
COHMAP explained it that as result of decreasing distance of earth – sun,
especially after 9000 BP. (COHMAP 1988: 1044, 1048).
In Taiwan Tsukada (1966) estimated for this warmer phase ca. 2 –
3 oC higher than at present at the peak of 6000 BP. In Sumatra,
at 10,000 - 8600 BP the mean temperature increased possibly by 2 oC
Precipitation during Hoabinhian
Ha van Tan (1985) suggested that the rockfall layer at Nguom
rockshelter reflected a dry and cold climate before 23,000 BP. Hoang Du and
Nguyen Duc Tung (1977) defined the pollen data in the lowest layer in Con
Moong excavation 1975-1976 to represent a dry climate. This layer have the
14C- age of 12,000 - 11,000 years ago. Two above opinions represent the
generally accepted view by almost all quaternary researchers in Viet Nam.
These views accepts that the late Pleistocene climate was generally dry and
cool. This general conception was supported by climate models proposed by
COHMAP (1988) for the case of the LGM climate. However, through our
research, there were many evidences for the condition of a humid climate
with strong rainfall during LGM in Vietnam.
The relative frequent presences of mollusc remains in the
cultural deposits during the time span from 23,000 to later18,600 BP in
Nguom rock shelter (Long et al. 1986) as well as the consequent increase of
mollusc remains during the Hoabinhian period tells of a long dry period
covering in total the late Pleistocene. The stratigraphy of some sites in
Southern China existing in the late upper Pleistocene (Q3) reflected a
identical palaeontological event that some representative species of the
Ailuropoda - Stegodon Fauna became rare. In contrast, the shells of
mollusc increased visible.
Based on mollusc data from Nguom and Tham Khuong, we can
estimate that at about 30,000 BP the climate in the region, for example
in Tham Khuong (1,200 m altitude, 21 o35N) was not too dry and
not too cold. The presence of a lot of shells of the land snail
Cyclophorus in the lowest layer of Tham Khuong cave supports this
picture. From 30,000 BP (the upper part of Tham Khuong) to 23,000 BP.
However, the climate became perhaps very dry and cool
Researching the surfaces of shells of Melania spp. collected in Xom
Trai, we recognized that they were destroyed always by being smashed using
stream stones . It is evidence of the role of floods caused by strong
rainfall. The fast running flood water caused the pushing of snail shells
against stones, smashing them in the process. This phenomenon suggest strong
rainfall periods in Muong Vang valley during 18,500 to16,000 BP. It is in
contrary to the traditional theory, which estimates a dry period during the
Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in Vietnam.
In the climatic amelioration rainfall increased in almost all
regions of the World. COHMAP (1988) pointed out that rainfall was 20 to 30%
more compared to present levels, particulary during 9000 - 6000 BP. The lake
level data from China supported this opinion. In the northern Hoabinhian
region, the pollen data from Zengpiyan exhibited a mild-humid to warm-humid
climate during 9000 - 7000 BP.
In Vietnam, we observed at Con Moong
cave that at different archaeological layers, the nature of food remains
differed. This observation also demonstrate two distinct moist phases
corresponding to the increase of land snails Cyclophorus spp. and
12,000 - 10,000 BP (peak at about 10,500 BP) and 9500 - 9000 BP (peak
at about 9,300 BP) (Viet et al 1988). These phases also correspond to
the abundance of charred plant food remains Castanopsis spp. and
Hoabinhian Food Remains
With the excavations in the Mea Hong Son area (North west Thailand)
lead by Chester Gorman in the 1960s our knowledge of the Hoabinhian menu
became more detail. Gorman was also the first researcher to address this
question. Before Gorman there was a common notion that prehistoric organic
remains hardly survive under tropical conditions. But this is not correct
anymore in the case of Hoabinhian sites, where human habitat were mainly
in caves or under rock shelters. The plant remains as well as fossils of
small animals, even of insects eggs and exoskeletons, excavated at Xom Trai,
Con Moong contributed to the change of thinking.
Gorman (1970, 1971, 1977) and then Yen (1977) had recovered
firstly believable data on Hoabinhian-like culture plant remains collected
by them at the Thailand sites of Spirit cave, Tham Pachan and Banyan Valley
cave. The excavations at Khao Talu , Men, Petch Kuha and Heap caves (West
Thailand) during 1977-1979 supplied more plant remains which were botanical
investigated by Pynamarn (1989). In the excavations at Ongbah cave (West
Thailand) Sorensen (1988) recorded some Canarium fragments. In Viet
Nam, Hoabinhian plant remains were found in many sites: Xom Trai, Con Moong,
Dong Cang, Mai Da Dieu, Hang Doi, My Te, Sung Sam, Nguom, Lang Vanh, Hang
Muoi. However systematic recovery were only carried out at the excavations
of Xom Trai and Con Moong sites(Viet 2000a).
The list of Hoabinhian animal bone remains was presented by
Gorman (1971) consisting 32 species from 26 sites. Pookajorn (1988)
presented a comparative list of animals found at Ban Kao Hoabinhian caves
and Mea Hong Son Hoabinhian caves. In Viet Nam, Long (1984) presented a
complete picture of animal species collected from almost all Hoabinhian
excavations in Viet Nam. From the lists mentioned above we can recognize an
abundance of animal and plant materials from Hoabinhian sites, but it is
still not substantial enough for a significant palaeoeconomic study. Some
excavations such as in Xom Trai in 1986, Con Moong in 1987, Dong Can in 1987
and Mai Da Dieu in 1989, where animal bone recovery were best documented,
are not yet completely published. The Hoabinhian economic picture stays,
therefore, only at the very general as sketched over 30 years ago by Gorman
(1971, 1977), Dunn (1970), Glover (1977) and Higham (1977). More recently
Surin Pookajorn (1988) and Albrecht (2000) tried a more detailed study of
this topic through an ethnoarchaeological approach. But the archaeological,
specially the botanical and animal remains, were not documented and
Basing on the data documented and analysed by us and by our collaborators
during last 20 years on Hoabinhian food, I would discuss below some of our
Context of Hoabinhian Food Collecting in Vietnam
Hoabinhian living in
Vietnam has two main characteristics: Mountainous valley food exploitation
and limestone cave or rockshelter housing. There are four cases that have
been carefully researched: Con Moong, Xom Trai –Lang Vanh, Dong Can and Sung
Sam. At Con Moong, Sung Sam, the Hoabinhian people occupied high altitude
caves ( about 30-50m over valley niveau). The valleys here were small and
without stream. Humans must have had difficulty getting water during the dry
season. Meal remains from Con Moong cultural sediments showed only products
occurring during warm or rainy season ( Summer ) with advantage of
land snail Cyclophorus spp., of rock crabs Ranguna spp.
and charred stones of Canarium fruits. The limestone mountain here
occurred more than 60% per gatherer’s food exploiting catchement ( 5 km
radius from the cave ). The same situation is seen also in Sung Sam cave.
Against it, man could get from Hoabinhian sediment in Dong Can cave mainly
products of the Winter season. Here it occurred few limestone mountain
(resource of Cyclophorus), few earthern ferlarit humus hills
(resource of castanopis or canarium fruits) but had more water
sources like big streams even in the dry season. Bones of big stream fishes
and of tortoises dominated the food remains assemblage; with 90 % of
measured fish vertebra evidenced they were killed during Winter. Very few
shells of snailwere found here.
In Xom Trai cave and Lang
Vanh rock-shelter of “ Adam Garden” Muong Vang valley remains of food
from all seasons were found. The catch basin occurred here with only 0.03%
of limestone, but 5% water surface, 40% valley surface and rest about 55%
ferlarit humus earthern hills. The main food of Xom Trai and Lang Vanh
inhabitants were represented by stream snails Melania spp.. Ca.
47.000 snail shells and 5 kg mammal bone remains corresponding to 78.5 kg
edible meal from snail and 35 kg from mammal could be counted from each
That means, in the very good natural condition as Muong Vang valley, the
Hoabinhian people need not move seasonally. The existence of three
contemporary Hoabinhian sites (Xom Trai, Lang Vanh, Xom Tre) in the same
hunting and gathering area could mean that they were rest places of the same
Hoabinhian group. The moving cycle period was perhaps three or five years,
when the natural food resource condition became bad as a result of over
exploitation of resources. Depending on the food resources, the Hoabinhian
hunters and gatherers were moving mainly seasonally. They stayed everywhere
only for a short time. In very few cases the Hoabinhian could settle in one
place for the entire year.
The general food resources
of Hoabinhian were gathered from the following environmental conditions:
rock-mountains (delivering land snail Cyclophorus and some small
water sources such as streams, small rivers, valley swamps, and lakes
(providing snail melania, angulyagra, bivalve corbicula and
surfaces and felarit humus hill surfaces (delivering nuts and fruits, roots,
fungis, vegetables, wild cereals and many wild mammals).
The traditional Hoabinhian
food strategy oriented on collecting snails and other plant products.
They hunted big mammals perhaps only occasionally.
strategy of food exploitation on the basic of a common broad spectrum food
exploiting (hunting, fishing and collecting).
From the quantitative data of total analysable food remains excavated at Xom
Trai cave (1982, 1986) and at Con Moong cave (1986) the determined
orientation is not subsistence based on hunted preys, but rather on
collected food. A quantitative research on food sources yielded from animal
world at Xom Trai exhibited the notable domination of the Antimelania
snails. Over 60% of the edible meat weight exploited from animals belong to
stream snails (Viet 1990b). This number has a great significance, because
from it we have an idea of how much time inhabitants of Xom Trai spent
daily for collecting and for preparing of snails. Our experimental study
shows that with a relatively abundant source, a 30 years old woman had to
spend nearly two hours to get ca. 5 kg stream snails (corresponding to ca.
2,000 calories) and ca. two hours for preparation and consuming these
The orientation to non-vertebrate animal resources, especially
is an important feature of the food exploitation of the Hoabinhian. This
orientation differed in each distinct ecological niche or environmental
condition. For example, in some sites, the shells of stream snails dominated
(cases of Xom Trai, Hang Muoi, Lang Vanh) but in another one the land-snail
shells dominated (cases of Phung Quyen, Sung Sam, Con Moong). The
differences of aquatic resource and limestone rock surface determined the
percentage of mollusc sources in the food composition in each Hoabinhian
A food orientation can be found also in the plant food
exploitation. Over 90% of the plant remains excavated at Xom Trai (1982)
belong to Juglans nut. The same percentage of the plant remains
collected at Con Moong (1986) belonged to Canarium (upper layers) and
to Castanopsis (lower layers).
The statistic calculations of the animal bone fragments showed
the dominance of turtle in the hunting of Xom Trai cave dwellers : 26% of
total bone fragments belong to this species. The same situation could be
seen in Con Moong and Dong Cang caves.
quantitative research shows the local differences of Hoabinhian food
collecting. For example, in Dong Can, the Hoabinhian people consumed mainly
fish, tortoise and Canarium nuts. But people used in Con Moong mainly
land snail Cyclophorus, stream snail Melania, rock-crabs
Ranguna and nut Castanopsis, fruits Celtis in lower layers
and fruit Canarium in upper layers.
We may infer that snails, fruits or nuts were the source of
daily nutrition needs of Hoabinhian inhabitants. This orientation was not in
contrast with the broader spectrum of hunting and collecting strategy, but
they do characterize specific Hoabinhian food strategy.
Chester Gorman had suggested the possibility of seasonal occupation in
Northwest Thailand Hoabinhian (Gorman 1971:313). Researching the case of
Con Moong arises a question, whether the cave was occupied during winters,
when presently at this season almost all natural streams in around a 2 km
radius are nearly total dry. The major food remains demonstrated that they
were collected mainly in summer, for example Canarium
(July-October), land snail Cyclophorus (April-October), rock crabs
Ranguna (April-October). The measures of growth lines on some shell
samples in the layers B3a and B4a (ca. 12,000 BP), show that they were
collected directly after the "hungry period" — about March or April (Viet
1990). In contrast, researching growth lines on fish bones — a main food of
Dong Cang inhabitants — evidenced the occupations happened only in Winter
during No vember to February (Viet et al. 2001).
In Xan Trai cave, however, the
food remain data did not suggest seasonality. The food sources in this
region permited the inhabitants to stay for long periods of time.
Pookajorn’s (1988) enthographic study of the current population of Phi Tong
Luang living in the area describes a migration pattern. This gives us an
insight on the possibility that the archaeological sites located near each
other (for example, case of Xom Trai, Lang Vanh and Xom Tre) belong to only
one Hoabinhian group. This group migrated not seasonally but moved in the
area at three or five years intervals depending on the decreasing
availability of food resources due to human exploitation.
Changes in Hoabinhian Food Strategy in the Da But Culture
The Da But culture existed
in northern Vietnam during the Middle Holocene Sea transgression.
radiocarbon dates of this culture suggested it’s beginning at 5th-6th
millennium BCE and ended at about the 3rd millennium BCE. As
presented above, the Hoabinhian food tradition in the site was oriented
towards the exploitation of shellfish from mountainous environs, and some
nuts and fruits. There was a shift in the Dabutian diet with the
exploitation of a new shellfish : bivalve Corbicula found in swamp
and lake environments. In some Hoabinhian caves, especially at the
east border of the limestone rock massif where Thanh Hoa, Hoa Binh, Ninh
Binh and Da Phuc site are located, we could see the increasing percentage of
valley swamp shellfish (bivalve Corbicula, snail Angulyagra).
During the period 10,000
to 8000 BP, rainfall increased in the continent. Under influences of sea
trangression many coastal deltas were formed. This lead to the creation of
many swamp and lakes, conducive to the growth of mollusk populations. In
the early Holocene, almost all swarmp and lakes were fresh water near
Dabut. Compared to Hoabinhian traditional catchments, the new forming coast
deltas had more aquatic surfaces . The populations of swamp shellfish
developed quicker than land and stream snails. This allowed the Dabutians to
settle longer in a place. They lived mainly throughout the year by
collecting bivalvia Corbicular. However we noticed in the upper
stratigraphic layers of Dabut shell middens, marine shellfish remains
increased, which may be seen as evidence for the nearing of the sea to the
In another case of Dabutian
site at Go Trung, the people lived mainly on fishing. At this site thousands
of fragments of marine fish bones and many stone net weights were
excavated. In another site Con Co Ngua, the Dabutian collected aside from Corbicular,
many other marine shellfish. This may be seen as a cultural adaptation
to the higher sea level condition.
The change in food
strategy lead to a change in the way of living of people in the area. The
Dabutian needed to use more edge polishing axes to work with wood to build
open -air housing ( house or shelter building), more potteries for cooking
possibly Corbicular, and the dead were interned in a burial field,
buried in a squat/sitting position. The first evidence for domestication of
dog, pig and water buffalo were suggested from bones excavated in Dabut
sediments. However, the Dabutian lived mainly by a non-producing food
subsistence strategy. They were basically gatherers, collectors and hunters.
The introduction of Hoabinhian in the area caused the change in food
subsistence strategy. The Hoabinhians became the most developed group in
early and middle Holocene in Northern Middle Vietnam. In this culture the
characteristics of a Neolithic society are first established.
Nguyen Viet, 2001b. Micro
Studies of Hoabinhian Archaeology in Vietnam. Paper presented on
Intern. Conference of Hundred Years Researching Vietnamese
Hanoi, December 2001.
The temperature changes
depending yet upon altitude, latitude and position of sites from the
sea. Normally, the higher the altitude and latitude or the more far
off sea , the cooler the tempreture. Rind & Peteet (1985) points out
that at 18,000 BP, mean temperature in New Guinea was below 27oC
(nearly sea surface temperature) to 22,4oC (surface air
temperature) to 11oC (at 2.5 km temperature) and required
a surface 4 Km lpse are of 7,5 oC per 1000m, while Fleney
(1985), basing on the pollen data in different altitudes of New
Guinea highland supposed a laps rate of 0.8 oC per 100m
at 18,000 BP. The standard lapse rate at present is 0,5 oC
(in Taiwan) or 0,6 oC per 100m (in Viet Nam, Southern
China and New Guinea) - see Tsukada 1966, Zheng et al.,1999, Tum &
Lin 1978 and Fleney 1989. At 18,000 BP, Nguom rock shelter and Xom
Trai cave more ca 400 - 500 Km far from sea (at -100m isovath).
Zone M existed in the time span
of >47,000 to ca. 12,000 BP
This fragment is stored
in the Museum of Vietnamese
The earlier Canarium
discoveries were reported in Srilanka with a 14
C date of
more than 12,000 BP. That means probably that the more southward to
the equator, the Holocene began earlier.
In Viet Nam I have not yet
found evidences of the warm phase of 28,000 BP as it has been
mentioned by Fleney (1985) and some Chinese researchers.
confirmed that land snail Cyclophorus
and rock crab
can be collected only in cool and moist condition. Today
they go out only when it’s cool (daily early morning or - evening )
and moist (raining season). The collecting season is March-April-May
and August-September October. It’s very difficult to gather such
food during June and July ( hot) as well as during November to
In comparions at Con Moong site,
only 10,000 shell remains were recovered , and at Sung Sam cave only
9000 shells per one cubic meter sediment , ca. 3 kg mammal bone for
each site were also recovered.
A broad-spectum hunting and
gathering Hoabinhian strategy was recognized by many researchers
(Gorman, 1971; Tan, 1982). That was the major basic of the
Hoabinhian subsistant strategy, and it might be charactering for all
cases of the late palaeolithic cultures in this region.
Notably, fish remains as well
as Bivalvia occurred in very few quantities in the Hoabinhian
deposits in north Viet Nam. The greatest collection of fish remains
in an Hoabinhian site may be found at Dong Cang cave, however it
occurs only 10% of total weight of animal bones recovered.
越南早期汉文字的铭文(Early Han Inscriptions in Vietnam)
MINH VĂN CHỮ HÁN SỚM Ở VIỆT NAM
Nguồn cội hình thành truyền thuyết Thánh Gióng
Phát hiện thêm trống Đông Sơn có minh văn
Yên Bái - Vùng đất của những thạp đồng Đông Sơn lớn nhất và đẹp nhất
Ly's name of Giao Chỉ during Han Age
Khảo sát dòng họ Lý từ khởi nguồn đến Lý Công Uẩn
Những người dân xa xứ đã từng hiến đất mở rộng kinh thành Thăng Long ở TK 15
Thạp đồng Đông Sơn của huyện lệnh Long Xoang (Xuyên) Triệu Đà
Âu Lạc và Giao Chỉ - một số vấn đề ngữ âm học lịch sử
Thanh kiếm ngắn Đông Sơn mang hình tượng Hai Bà Trưng
Đai hội Khảo cổ học Thế giới (WAC-06)
ArchaeoEthnobotany records of Canarium in Vietnam and in SEA
Hoabinhian Macro Botany
Archaeology of Death in Vietnam
Homeland of the HoaBinhian in Vietnam