3,000 years of cultural heritage and Lao history

Written by Sonepraseuth Niradsay     August 22 2016 at 12:17 AM

People have been mining for thousands of years. Nowhere is this more evident than at our Sepon copper mine in Lao PDR.

Remarkable archaeological discoveries are being made at the Sepon mine in Vilabouly district. One of the most outstanding recent finds included items used in early mining that have been carbon dated to approximately 3,000 years ago. This places Vilabouly among the first locations for mining and metallurgy in Southeast Asian history. Ancient mining continued around Sepon mine until around 1,300 years ago (about 700 AD). These dates were derived from bamboo matting in ancient mine-shaft support structures, preserved in wet clay between 10 metres and 40 metres below the surface. Five sites with preserved wood and bamboo mining shaft structures have now been explored at Sepon.

This work has been made possible through a long-term partnership between MMG, the Lao Department of National Heritage (Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism), Australia’s James Cook University, and the National University of Laos. Students from universities in Australia and Lao PDR are co-operating with local communities to explore archaeological sites and preserve artefacts.

Other recent finds include mining equipment such as wooden ladders and pulleys, mallets, painted bamboo baskets, and rope – all remarkably well preserved in natural sediments. Many items are on display in Vilabouly Cultural Hall. Other important heritage finds include a large Dong Son era bronze drum on display at the National Museum in Vientiane. Crucibles, copper ingots, jewellery, ceremonial items, and other artefacts highlight Lao PDR’s pivotal place in regional history.

“This work shows how communities in Laos refined and exchanged minerals for thousands of years,” said Dr Nigel Chang from James Cook University.

“Excavations at Sepon have uncovered a rich history of mining and settlement dating back thousands of years. Evidence of ancient copper mining shafts and ingots highlight the importance of mining in regional civilisations.”

“This program is extremely important in preserving ancient Lao culture as a legacy for future generations,” said Dr Viengkeo Souksavatdy, Deputy Director General, Department of National Heritage, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. “Vilabouly Cultural Hall showcases one of the most valuable archaeological collections in the Lao PDR.”


Pictured: Mr Amphai Butphachit, an archaeologist with the Lao Department of National Heritage, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, is drawing the fine details of a bronze axe recovered during excavations in Vilabouly.  This artefact was used by Lao copper miners around 2000 years ago.

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