Textile Crafts in the Gulf of Tongking: The Intersection Between Archaeology and History

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Craft production played an important role in the overall structure of economic life in the Gulf of Tongking region during both the prehistoric and protohistoric periods. This is evidenced by the large number of bronze drums found at archaeological sites in Vietnam, Yunnan, and Guangxi, discussed in the chapters by Li Tana and Michael Churchman. These drums indicate not only that metal production was a major preoccupation during the first millennium B.C.E., but that crafts contributed to the wealth of emerging elites in the region. There is also unequivocal archaeological evidence that many Bronze Age sites in Southeast Asia were involved in longdistance trade and exchange well before the Han Chinese moved into the regions surrounding the South China Sea.1 Undoubtedly, textiles would have been important commodities in the Nanhai trade of the historical period.2 They are a fundamental part of material culture, as easily transported as bronzes and pottery, and imbued with considerable sociocultural significance. Not only are textiles used for clothing throughout Asia, they are prescribed for rites of passage ceremonies as symbols of ethnic and social identity. Some scholars have suggested that textiles may have initially been more important than pottery in the early trade of the South China Sea but that archaeological textiles do not survive.3 Certainly, the climate of the Tongking Gulf region is not conducive to the preservation of organic materials, so inevitably textiles are underrepresented in the archaeological record. Nevertheless, a few extant remains have recently been unearthed, and archaeological excavations in the region have also produced indirect evidence for cloth production in the form of textile production tools. Just such a little-known assemblage of tools has been recovered from a Western Han tomb in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region near Hepu, the oldest departure point on the ancient maritime route. This chapter considers that assemblage, and earlier archaeological parallels from prehistoric sites in Vietnam and Yunnan, to determine what the data might tell us about the textile crafts and early interactions in the Gulf of Tongking. Copyright
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Tongking Gulf Through History
    Editors Nola Cooke, Li Tana and James A.Anderson
    Place of PublicationPhiladelphia
    PublisherUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
    ISBN (Print)9780812243369
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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