Abstract: Misty Legends, Archaeology, and the Origins of “Vietnamese” Civilization


This lecture is concerned with the origins of “Vietnamese” civilization in northern Vietnam, an area long believed to be the cradle of Vietnamese ethnic identity. Chroniclers and historians for have referenced this area over a millennium, many recording colorful tales and legends. One of the most enduring accounts is story of the Au Lac Kingdom and its purported capital, known as Co Loa. According to legend, the city was founded during the third century BC. For the people of Vietnam, Co Loa has become emblematic of an important foundational era for nascent civilization. Using the archaeological record to complement, support, and challenge traditional textual sources, this lecture explores trajectories of cultural change throughout the area’s prehistory, from an era of scattered farming villages to a time when powerful societies emerged, marked by social inequalities and consolidated forms of political power. In doing so, the lecture places Co Loa within a wider global theoretical consideration of ancient cities and complex societies. Also considered is the relationship between the politics of the present and the material remains of the ancient past.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

2013. Kim, Nam. Lasting monuments and durable institutions: Labor, urbanism and statehood in northern Vietnam and beyond. Journal of Archaeological Research 21(3), pp. 217-267.

2010. Kim, Nam, Lai Van Toi, and Trinh Hoang Hiep. Co Loa: an investigation of Vietnam's ancient capital. Antiquity 84 (326), pp. 1011-1027.


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