Tha Kae 1988-1993

Archaeological investigations in Tha Kae 1988-1993

Our fieldwork began in 1988 with a rescue excavation programme on the Tha Kae site (Lopburi District, Province of Lopburi, 14°50’40” N- 100°37’10’’ E) [Fig. 1], which was on the verge of being completely destroyed by quarrying activities and illegal digging –  that forced the abandonment of the excavation in 1993 [Figs. 2, 3]. Located on a river terrace cut by a palaeochannel [Fig. 4], in aerial photographs taken in 1945 and 1953 the site appeared clearly surrounded by a double moat and embankment, with an area of about 73-76 ha, of which today only traces remain [Fig. 5]. Four excavation campaigns (1988-1993) at Tha Kae enabled the history of the archaeological deposit to be understood, with occupation phases dating to the early 2ndmillennium BC and the 17thcentury AD [Fig. 6].

The project’s main objectives were: to understand how the archaeological deposit was formed, identify the structural and cultural phases, study the craft activities conducted on the site, and the nature of, changes in and scope of cultural and commercial interactions at regional and inter-regional levels. After a first campaign (1988) dedicated exclusively to recording the unfortunately numerous quarry sections around the entire perimeter of the surviving portions of the site, four excavation areas and two trial trenches were dug (in total more than 220 m2) [Fig. 7].

Analysis of the data highlighted the importance of the lowest level, associated with a Neolithic cultural phase (about 1800-1100 BC) [Fig. 8] during which local hunter-gatherer communities acquired the technique of rice cultivation.

Fig. 1 Provincia di Lopburi (in alto a sinistra) con carta topografica del transetto oggetto delle nostre indagini e localizzazione del sito di Tha Kae.
Fig. 1 Province of Lopburi (upper left) with map showing our research transect and position of the Tha Kae site.
Fig. 2 Tha Kae: 1. 1988 tombe violate lungo il fronte di cava della c.d. “Isola centrale” all’inizio del nostro progetto; 2. Escavatori meccanici al lavoro (1992) nella zona più settentrionale del sito; 3. In primo piano l’imbocco dei pozzi scavati dai “tombaroli” che in alcuni casi riuscirono ad arrivare fino alle nostre trincee di scavo visibili in secondo piano.
Fig. 2 Tha Kae: 1. Robbed tombs on the quarry margin in the  “central island” at the start of the project (1988); 2. Mechanical excavators at work (1992) in the northern area of the site; 3. In the foreground, the entrance to tunnels dug by “grave robbers”, which in some cases extended as far as our excavation trenches, visible further back.
Fig. 3 1989, il nostro assistente, Narong Saikongdee, mostra i semplici attrezzi di scavo lasciati in posto da un tombarolo.
Fig. 3 1989, our assistant Narong Saikongdee holds the simple digging equipment left by a grave-robber.
Fig. 4 Transetto della carta geomorfologia della Piana di Lopburi elaborata dal nostro geomorfologo, M. Cremaschi (Università di Milano).
Fig. 4 Detail of of the geomorphological map of the Lopburi Plain produced by our geomorphologist, M. Cremaschi (University of Milan).
Fig. 5 Pianta dei resti di deposito archeologico come rilevato nel 1989 e sezione stratigrafica del sito con il fossato e terrapieno del grande recinto e il fossato di quello più piccolo.
Fig. 5 Plan of remains of the archaeological deposit made in 1989 and stratigraphic section of the site showing the ditch and bank of the large enclosure and the ditch of the small enclosure.
Fig. 6 Cronologia e sequenza culturale del deposito archeologico di Tha Kae.
Fig. 6 Chronological and cultural sequence of the Tha Kae site.
Fig. 7 Mappa del sito con la posizione delle sezioni di cava e delle trincee indagate dal LoRAP.
Fig. 7 Site map showing positions of the quarry margins and LoRAP excavation areas.
Fig. 8 Sepolture di Età Neolitica (ca. 1800-1100 a.C.). 1. Sezione B Tomba 3: a) collana di perline di conchiglia anadara; b) calice in ceramica a tempera minerale e decoro “inciso-e-impresso” a meandri. 2. Op.1 Tomba 10: a) offerta di una valva di ‘vongola d’acqua dolce’ (Fam. Unionidae) e perle di conchiglia tridacna; b) calici a tempera vegetale con spesso ingobbio rosso brunito e decoro geometrico dipinto in rosso.
Fig. 8 Neolithic burials Age (c.1800-1100 BC). 1. Section B Tomb 3: a) necklace of Anadara shell beads; b) pottery drinking vessel with mineral temper and “incised and engraved” meander decorations. 2. Op.1 Tomb 10: a) freshwater clam (Fam. Unionidae) valve and Tridacna shell beads; b) plant-tempered vessels with thick red-brown slip and geometrical decoration painted in red.

The use of rice husk as a tempering agent is well attested in the fabric of terracotta pots decorated with painted motifs [Fig. 9]. Both these vases and those with mineral tempers and sophisticated “incised and engraved” meander decorations were found as grave goods together with Anadarashell beads and “freshwater mussel” (Unionidae) valves [Fig. 10]. At Tha Kae the evidence relating to the introduction of copper metallurgy between 1100-1000 BC is weak. An important discovery dating to a mid-late phase of the local Bronze Age (c.800-500 BC) featured abundant processing waste and semi-finished artefacts derived from the production of jewellery from Tridacnashells and stone (quartzite and limestone). It was possible to reconstruct the entire manufacturing cycle [Fig. 10], and also to indicate relatively precisely – thanks to comparison with other Thai sites – the time when the products of this craft activity entered the inter-regional trading networks.

From the second half of the 1stmillennium BC long-distance trading, including the first recorded with the Indian subcontinent [Figs. 11, 12], the definitive adoption of the rice paddy, and the introduction of iron production triggered the growth of social complexity. At TK this is evident from the construction of the ditches and embankments around the village, and in the wealth differences displayed by the single and ‘family’ burials in the Iron Age burial ground [Figs. 13, 14]. This growth process culminated in the flowering of the Dvaravati artistic phenomenon in about AD 600-700. The remains of two brick structures are linked to this culture; due to their large size and the presence of small votive terracotta lamps, we assume they had a religious function [Fig. 15]. Various sophisticated Dvaravati artefacts (including cult objects), some found during our excavations and others given to the Thai FAD by private donors, testify to the importance of the moated site – by then within the orbit of the town of Lopburi/Lavo, which was probably due to the presence of a religious community (likely Hindu first and then Buddhist). This role did not diminish during the Khmer period (9th– 13th/14thcenturies), as evidenced by the presence in layer 1 of the deposit (about 10 cm thick) of numerous fragments of Khmer ritual glazed stoneware vessels and Chinese porcelain of similar date [Fig. 16]. The presence in several surviving patches within the uppermost layer of sherds of glazed stoneware from the Thai kilns in Sukhothai (13th-16thcenturies) and fragments of terracotta vases with imprinted decorations from the Ayutthaya period (14th– 18thcenturies) indicate the continuity of the settlement, which slowly moved towards the western edge of the river terrace during the last 300 years.

Fig. 9 Cariossidi di riso domestico (Oryza sativa) nell’impasto ceramico di un vaso funerario con decoro geometrico dipinto in rosso in immagini da SEM Leo 435 (Servizio di Bioarcheologia e Microscopia elettronica del Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale ‘G. Tucci’).
Fig. 9 Caryopsis of domestic rice (Oryza sativa) within a burial vessel with red painted geometric decoration. Photo by SEM Leo 435 (Laboratory of Bio-archaeology and Electronic Microscopy, Oriental National Museum ‘G. Tucci’)
Fig. 10 Ciclo di manifattura degli ornamenti personali di conchiglia tridacna ricostruito attraverso lo studio dei frammenti di semi-lavorati a diversi stadi di lavorazione, di scarti di manifattura e di prodotti finiti.
Fig. 10 Manufacture cycle of personal ornaments of tridacna shell, though the study of fragments semi-worked at the different stages of production, manufacture wastes and final products.
Fig. 11 Monili di importazione/imitazione indiana (sec. III a.C.-III d.C.): 1. Perline di vetro del tipo trade winds; 2. Perle di corniola; 3. Perle di agata, corniola e serpentino; 4.-5. Ornamenti di terracotta da orecchio.
Fig. 11 Jewels of indian importation/imitation (3rdcentury BC-3rdcentury AD): 1. Glass beads of  trade windstype; 2. Cornaline beads; 3. Agate, cornaline and serpentine beads; 4.-5. Terracotta earrings.
Fig. 12 Artefatti di importazione/imitazione indiana (sec. III-VI d.C.): 1. Perle sfaccettate di corniola; 2. Perline globulari e sfaccettate d’oro; 3. Anello di rame/bronzo con castone; 4. Vasellame con confronti indiani per forma o tecnica di manifattura; 5. Levigatoi di terracotta.
Fig. 12 Tools of indian importation/imitation (3rdcentury BC-4rdcentury AD): 1. Faced cornaline beads; 2. Globular beads and golden faced beads; 3. Copper/bronze ring with bezel; 4. Vessels with parallels in India regarding shapes and manufacture technology; 5. Terracotta skin-rubbers.
Fig. 13 Op.1 corredo della Tomba 19: a) calice di ceramica rosso-violacea; b) offerta animale (canis familiaris); c) punta di ferro piegata nel rito d’inumazione; d) bracciale sfaccettato di rame/bronzo; e) bacile di ceramica rossa; f) vanga di ferro.
Fig. 13 Op.1 burial gifts from Grave 19: a) high-footed reddish-purple cup; b) animal offer (canis familiaris); c) iron tool, specifically bent during the burial rite; d) copper/bronze faced bracelet; e) red pottery vat; f) iron shovel.
Fig. 14 Op.1 Tomba 15: ‘sepoltura multipla’ contenente i resti di almeno cinque individui (due infanti, due adulti e un sub-adulto) deposti in successione durante un indeterminato lasso di tempo.
Fig. 14 Op.1 Grave 15: ‘multiple burial’ with the remains of at least five people (two children, two adults, one sub-adult) laid in sequence during an indefinite range of time.
Fig. 15 Op. 2 evidenze di periodo Dvaravati : a-b) Struttura A in fase di scavo (1989) e pianta finale; c) vista E-O della struttura B probabilmente parte di una grande piattaforma distrutta sul suo lato nord dai lavori cava; d) lampade votive di terracotta.
Fig. 15 Op. 2, remains of Dvaravati period:  a-b) Building A during the excavations (1989) and final plan; c) view from E-W of Structure B, probably part of a huge platform, destroyed on the northern side due to the quarry; d) votive terracotta lamps.
Fig. 16 Op. 1 Livello di abitato 1 (sec. XI-XIV): 1-2. frammenti di vasellame rituale di gres invetriato Khmer e di coeva porcellana cinese; 3. (rinvenimento casuale nella zona di cava) scatola di gres con vetrina qingbai dalle fornaci cinesi della prov. di Fujian (sec. XIII) (dono LoRAP al Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Re Narai)
Fig. 16 Op.1, Settlement, Layer 1 (11th-14thcenturies AD):1-2: fragments of glazed gres Khmer ritual vessels and contemporary Chinese porcelain; 3.(scattered from the quarry area) box in gres with qingbai window from the Chinese kilns of Fujian’s province (13thAD) (give from LoRAP to the National Museum of King Narai Palace).
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