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Revelations from an ancient civilisation

Archaeologists have uncovered scores of artefacts left by the Sa Huynh people, who lived in the central region thousands of years ago. They will soon be on display in Quang Ngai. Vo Quy Cau reports.

Revelations from an ancient civilisation
Revelations from an ancient civilisation

The central province of Quang Ngai will put the Sa Huynh cultural relics on display in Pho Thanh and Pho Khanh communes of Duc Pho District by the end of this year.

The Sa Huynh outdoor cultural relics, which are the first outdoor cultural relics in Viet Nam, are under a conservation project of the Sa Huynh archaeological relics. It covers 20,000 square metres, but its focal point is located in Cat Hamlet, Long Thanh Village in Pho Thanh District. A museum with three entrances has been completed for displaying these objects.

The main entrance overlooks an immense green forest, and slanting a little towards the north-east is the An Khe freshwater lake, which is surrounded by the coastal strip of sand and casuarinas forests. A road connecting Highway 1A to the ruins has been built in front of the outdoor ruins for the convenience of visitors.


Under the proposal recommended for approval by the Quang Ngai People’s Committee on May 10 last year, the museum with the Sa Huynh outdoor cultural relic will display objects based on different topics including its discovery, history and Sa Huynh cultural studies.

The Sa Huynh cultural studies will introduce the date and characteristics of the culture and include the comparative sizes of the ancient people, language and research. They will also introduce the documents, anthropology and bones unearthed in Oc Hamlet, Ly Son island district, and the Tang River in Tang Valley. The exhibits include the burial jars, the grinding table along with the axe and the Dong Son bronze objects.

On the new pathway from the museum towards the east is the Ma Vuong Mound, located on the coast. Here, in 1934, Madeleine Colani, a Frenchwoman from the Far Eastern Prehistory School conducted excavations and discovered the burial jars. By 1978, the Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology excavated many objects from the pre-Sa Huynh period, which was then about 3,000 years old, buried under a thick layer of up to two metres.

Doan Ngoc Khoi, deputy director of the Quang Ngai Museum, said that after the excavations by the French archaeologists, the Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology joined hands with a number of foreign archaeologists and the Quang Ngai General Museum to conduct exploratory excavations here.

The discovered artefacts proved that the Sa Huynh culture has evolved since the early brass to the Sa Huynh iron age. It also proved that the Sa Huynh culture was native and not imported from abroad.

Khoi said that people from the Sa Huynh period often chose places with beautiful scenery which were convenient for setting up homes. For instance, in the Tang River valley in the province’s Tay Tra District, the residential area of the ancient Sa Huynh people was a strip of land surrounded by mountains. The area is favourable for water resources and fishing. Although a sea is outside the area, inside there are freshwater lakes with many species of fish, molluscs in the midst of a beautiful landscape.

At the Ma Vuong Mound, the construction company has currently restored two excavation sites with a total area of more than 200sq.m and a 320 sq.m house to cover the site. Artefacts collected from previous excavations will be displayed at the two excavation sites. This will help researchers and visitors to view the artefacts at the scene, not at the museum. And so, the credibility of the ‘outdoor museum’ will be higher.

Deputy Director of the Quang Ngai Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Nguyen Phuc Nhan, said since the cultural relic was located on the coast it could be easily damaged by the forces of nature. Therefore, the items should be more carefully excavated and reconstructed.

Besides, pathways will be built from the Sa Huynh cultural relic to other relics including the Cau Da Tower north of the An Khe Lagoon, the Champa Well at the Thanh Duc 1 Gulf and the Thien Y A Na Temple at the Sa Huynh estuary in Pho Thanh Commune.

National special relic

Museum deputy chief Khoi, who has a lifelong attachment to the Sa Huynh culture, said different excavations from the early 20th century up to now have proved that the Sa Huynh culture stretched from the central province of Quang Binh to the southern central province of Binh Thuan.

Two years ago, archaeologists also found the relics of the Sa Huynh culture in the Bai Coi region in the central province of Ha Tinh and in Can Gio District in HCM City. But the centre of the Sa Huynh culture is located in Quang Nam, Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh provinces.

In Quang Ngai, excavations in Thanh Duc Commune in Duc Pho District, Chinh Stream in Ly Son District, Binh Chau Commune in Binh Son District, and at the Tang River Valley in Tay Tra District have revealed many artefacts. In Pho Thanh and Pho Khanh communes, the Sa Huynh relics were discovered under a very thick excavated layer.

After the country’s reunification, many excavations have been conducted by the Viet Nam History Museum (now known the Viet Nam National Museum), HCM City Institute of Social Sciences (now the Institute for Sustainable Development of the South) and Germany‘s General Research and Comparison Institute and other organisations. The artefacts being discovered in this area showed that the Sa Huynh culture existed 3,000 years ago.

The relic sites in Pho Thanh and Pho Khanh communes were discovered for the first time by M. Vinet, a French national, in 1909 with the excavation of 200 burial jars. So the decision to construct an outdoor museum here is meaningful.

However, it was only until a workshop on 100 years of the Sa Huynh culture was held in 2010, that the approval for the construction of the Sa Huynh outdoor cultural museum proposed by the Quang Ngai Province was granted.

Recently, under the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Quang Ngai authorities are collecting documents to propose that the Sa Huynh cultural recognised a national special relic site. The relics will also be displayed to Thanh Duc 2 Village in Pho Thanh Commune.

Khoi said besides completing construction work on the additional museum and two excavation sites, the Quang Ngai General Museum will join hands with relevant bodies to have more exploration and excavations. The artefacts being stored at the museum will be moved to the cultural relic site for display.