We ran a news story on January 4 regarding the excavation of the Luy Lau Citadel in Bac Ninh Province. Now, Culture Vulture interviews Le Van Chien, head of the Museum of National History's excavation team, to get the facts in detail.
Could you tell us about the most important facts that your team found after the 40-day excavation?
The most important artefacts we found were the broken pieces of the bronze cast moulds, both outer and inner. There were pieces with decorations of the drum surfaces, the rim and trunk.
You know that we have found many intact bronze drums, but our archaeologists up until now has not found any proof of bronze smithing in ancient Viet Nam.
In addition, we also found what we believe to be the pieces of a metallurgical furnace, pieces of bronze cast tanks and other tools involved in the casting process, such as the supporting pole. We found many artefacts that we will spend the next four to five months carefully preparing for the final report.
The artefacts we found show us the robust strength of the Dong Son Bronze Drum era (700BC to AD100).
Could you tell us more about the importance of the Luy Lau area?
There have been many reports about Luy Lau. It was the centre of a large area, the Jiaozhi region, which is located in the north of modern Viet Nam, from the year 100BC until the 10th century.
There were not enough statistics about the population of the area, but it was the oldest and most important centre of Buddhism in Asia. Historical records show that merchants from India stopped in Luy Lau before they went further inland to China. Indian merchants studied Han Chinese scripts before they went to China, but monks from China had to study Sanskrit before they went to India to study Buddhism.
This year, we found the remnants of the eastern and western walls of the earthen citadel. We also suggested that the north gate could be located in the site we found, but this needs further evidence.
What was the most difficult part of the process?
First of all, the weather was not stable. We had rain and sunshine. Second, the archaeological layers in the sites were very thick, at 2m with six layers dating from the first century up to the 10th, 14th and even 19th centuries. The densest layer was from the 1st to 10th century.
We never know what we will find on-site before an excavation. We carefully study and document everything we find for later research. Using the evidence, we can form ideas about what life may have been like in the area.
Last year, we found the remnants of the eastern wall, and this year we enlarged it and found what we believed to be a natural current that could be the border of the original citadel before it was enlarged eastward.
We believe that the Luy Lau Citadel had been enlarged on its eastern side throughout the 10th century.
Apart from analysing the findings in their surroundings, do you use modern technology for data? Do you have means for radiocarbon dating?
The Institute of Archaeology has a radiocarbon lab, and in Ho Chi Minh City there is a radiocarbon centre to define the age of the artefacts, but the adjusting indicator shall be provided by the lab.
At the press briefing about your preliminary findings, Nguyen Van Doan, deputy director of the Museum of National History, said that prolonged excavation at an archaeological site results in the permanent loss of history. What is he trying to say?
When we dig up an excavation site, everything we find at that site is inventoried. We have to measure the objects and file detailed descriptions of what we found.
Architectural artefacts can be kept in the museum, either at the site or elsewhere, but the layers of artefacts are uncovered, which means that we cannot dig them up again. Once we dig up a site, the actual layers of history will be turned into reports and pictures. It's like when we finish reading a page in a book, and we turn to the next page because we already finished it.
Well, excavating doesn't mean erasing that segment of history, but we analyse it more closely and document the facts for later research.
This time, we also found many big tiles measuring 40cm in width. We have not come up with any theories of the building underneath it. To reconstruct the buildings, it can take years of research, maybe five or even 10 years or longer.
Our programme has only entered its second year, and we still have much work to do. I look forward to releasing our final report in a few months and look forward to our next excavation. — VNS