288th Meeting – Tuesday, May 8th 2007

Mystery in the Mist of the Borderland of 
Thailand and Myanmar

A talk and presentation by Dr. Rasmi Shoocongdej

In comparison to other areas in Thailand, the archaeology of highland Pang Mapha, a borderland between Thailand and Myanmar, is very poorly known.  Much of what is known is based upon the pioneering work of Chester Gorman, an American archaeologist in 1960’s, who searched for an early domesticated site in Southeast Asia.  Since then, less than a dozen of research projects have been sparsely carried out by Thai and foreign scientists.  Due to a difficulty of easily reaching the research area by car; 90% of Pang Mapha are mountains, very few archaeological explorations have been conducted over the past several decades. 

Apart from the difficulty of the physical environment, social environments are also strikingly different from other regions of Thailand because the area is occupied by various hilltribe groups including Tai, Karen, Lua, Lahu, et al. Surprisingly, this area is a “terra incognita” cultural landscape even for the “Thai” archaeologists as the majority of populations are not “Thai”, and they still speak their own languages and strongly maintain their cultural identities.

While highland Pang Mapha is known by scientists as a natural laboratory for a very rich biodiversity of seasonal tropical environments, the area remained marginal and unknown for Thai archaeology until 1998; the Highland Archaeology in Pang Mapha Project is the first systematic archaeological research conducted in the seasonal tropical highland area.  This research is a long-term multi-disciplinary research involving 5 research teams: archaeology, physical anthropology, dendrochronology, ethnoarchaeology, and Geographic Information System.  The project was initiated in 1998 and will be conducted to 2006.

Before constructing a specific theoretical framework applicable to Thailand, this research project simply addresses a series of general issues concerning the evolution of social organization and the nature of culture change in the seasonal tropical environments.  Specifically, this research will elicit the elucidation of cultural history of an archaeologically poorly known part of Thailand and the world.

The project aims includes 1) to establish a comprehensive cultural chronology and to built up a regional archaeological data; 2) to investigate and reconstruct the paleoenvironment in the highland Pang Mapha; and 3) to study the relationships between humans and their environments, in particular, the processes of changes in social organization through time. 

Recent research has revealed remarkable new data on the late- and post-Pleistocene environments, subsistence and settlement patterns, and cultural continuities of the region.  The site occupations vary in ages.  Site types include burial sites, habitation sites, manufacturing sites, ceremonial sites, and rock painting sites.  Two excavated rockshelter sites are representative of regional chronology. A tentative chronology spanning the late Pleistocene to Recent (ca. 35,000 to 1,200 BP.).  Preliminary results of on going research will be presented.

The result of this research directly makes a significant contribution toward an understanding of better the interrelationship of prehistoric societies and seasonal tropical environments and will expand our knowledge of late- and post-Pleistocene archaeology in Thailand and Southeast Asia as well as the world. 


Rasmi  Shoocongdej (B.A., Silpakorn University; Ph.D., University of Michigan) is an assistant professor of archaeology and a former chair of the Department of Archaeology (will be a former chair in October 2004), Faculty of Archaeology, Bangkok, Thailand.  Her areas of interest include late-to post-Pleistocene forager in the tropics, Southeast Asian prehistory, cave archaeology, and archaeology and ethnic education.  Her experiences include northern, western, central, and southern Thailand; Cambodia, southwestern USA, and southeastern Turkey.

Presently, she is a principle investigator of Archaeological Heritage Management Project at Tham Lod and Ban Rai Rockshelters in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province.  This grant is supported by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation 2006.  Rasmi also conducted many research projects including the Highland Archaeological Project in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son province, northwestern Thailand (2002-6), Cave Survey and Database System in Mae Hong Son Province (2000-2002), Tai Studies: Archaeology (1999), etc. 

She is a co-founder and co-editor with Dr Elisabeth Bacus of Southeast Asian Archaeology International Newsletter since 1992-present.   She is an advisory board on Southeast Asian Archaeology for World Archaeology Journal and Asian Perspectives. 

Rasmi is actively involved in archaeological developments and activities in Thailand and Southeast Asia.  For instance, she has been elected as a senior representative for the Southeast Asian and the Pacific Region in the World Archaeological Congress Council and an executive member of Southeast Asian Prehistorian Association.  Apart from professional services, she has also worked intensively with the local communities and Thai general public on heritage protection and archaeological education.

            WEBSITE: highland.trf.or.th