History of Archaeological Research in Vietnam

Although Vietnamese people have been studying their own past for hundreds of years, it was not until the arrival of the French and the establishment of the École française d’Extrême-Orient that archaeological work began in earnest. As with their work in other Southeast Asian countries, many of the EFEO projects were focused on the later Indian-influenced Cham sites, that had impressive monuments in need of study and repair. However, investigations were also carried out on many prehistoric sites, including important work on the Hoabinhian hunter-gatherer culture by the French archaeologist Madeleine Colani.

A view of the 2012 excavation at Co Loa.

Unfortunately, many French archaeologists were influenced by their colonialist perspectives, and believed that the Dongson Culture was not indigenous to Vietnam. Some argued that the people of the Dongson Culture had migrated from China or even the Caucuses and then disappeared. It was not until independence that Vietnamese archaeologists began investigating and identifying the indigenous prehistoric cultures. Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh was a great supporter of archaeological research and many Vietnamese archaeologists were trained in the Soviet Union.

In the last 4o years there has been extensive archaeological research in Vietnam, especially on the prehistoric period identifying some of the roots of Vietnamese civilization. Fieldwork at the Co Loa site is one of the first Vietnamese-American collaborations since diplomatic relations were established in 1995. Fieldwork is ongoing and this collaboration has already produced fruitful results.

A view of one of the fortification walls around Co Loa.