Treasures from the past

The Vietnam National Museum of History is holding the ‘Vietnamese Archaeological Treasures’ exhibition until 30 July.

By Thuy Duong on May 09,2018 02:58 PM

Treasures from the past

Photos: Vietnam National Museum of History

Three-hundred items collected from museums stretching from the north to the south of Vietnam and dating back from the prehistoric era to the 17th and 18th centuries are on display at the ‘Vietnamese Archaeological Treasures’ exhibition at the Vietnam National Museum of History, to introduce domestic and foreign visitors to Vietnamese history and culture through achievements in archaeological research.

The exhibition features three different spaces that take visitors back to different periods in history: a prehistoric space, a metal age space, and a space for rarely seen treasures from the 10th century BC.

‘Calling the exhibition “Vietnamese Archaeological Treasures” is apt,’ said Associate Professor Bui Chi Hoang from the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. ‘Many artefacts at the exhibition should be recognised as national treasures. There are certainly no others like them. They possess a unique beauty and great historical value.’

National treasures

Treasures from the past

Linga made from gold, dating from 8th and 9th centuries. (Cat Tien archeological site, Lam Dong province)

One of the unique artefacts rarely exhibited, according to Hoang, is a gold Linga (male genitalia) statue found at the Cat Tien archaeological site in the central highlands province of Lam Dong. Hoang and his colleagues found the object in a pillar buried three metres underground. ‘It’s made from pure gold, not gilded gold,’ he said. ‘We also excavated many Linga and Yoni (male and female genitalia) statues made from precious stone as well as many other gold objects.’ The giant archaeological excavation took place from 1999 to 2004.

A rare gold Linga has only ever been found at Cat Tien. ‘Linga stones can be seen elsewhere, but the only gold Linga was found at Cat Tien,’ Hoang added. ‘People also excavated a gold Linga at the archaeological site of My Son, but it is not in Vietnam anymore and is being exhibited at France’s Guimet Museum.’

According to archaeologists, Cat Tien’s Linga-Yoni statues are rich in variety of materials and sizes, with 20 in precious stone, quartz, gold, a mix of bronze and silver (with bronze in the body and covered with silver on top), and brick. Linga and Yoni were high spirits, symbolic of the worship of the Ba-La-Mon (Brahman) religion in Southeast Asia and always occupying a very important place in temples and shrines as well as in the minds of believers. They are both symbols of the gods of the Brahman religion and possess ‘yin and yang’, expressing the aspirations of fertility and happiness of animals and human being in the universe.

‘There are so many precious artefacts on display that no one can discover everything in just one visit,’ said Nam An, a tourist from HCMC, who regretted he didn’t have time to come to the exhibition again.

Many other precious objects are on display. For example, in the metal age space, visitors will be impressed by a skeleton from an ancient Chau Can grave, the occupant of which is said to have been a resident of the Dong Son culture dating back about 2,300 years.

Treasures from the past

A terracotta jar from the Sa Huynh culture dating back 2,000 to 2,500 years.  (Duc  Pho archeological site, Lam Dong province )


It is one of the best-preserved graves ever discovered by Vietnamese archaeologists. The boat-shaped grave is one of five ancient tombs unearthed in December 2000 at Chau Can commune in Hanoi’s Phu Xuyen district.

For the first time, these tombs can tell stories from thousands of years ago. Located on a rice field in a ditch that flows from the Nhue River to National Highway No 1, the Chau Can grave is made from the trunk of a tree about two metres in length and with a diameter of 0.5 metres. The tree was sawn into two unequal parts, with the thick part used to house the body and the thin part as the lid of the coffin. Inside, the body was placed on its back with the arms stretched out, with his whole body wrapped in thin layers of cloth or leaves. In the grave are also many bronze weapons, such as slanted axes, spears, rushes and swords, as well as house ware made from bamboo, wood and pottery. When burying their dead with such objects, people hope they can live and work normally in the afterlife.

‘A boat-shaped coffin is considered to be the culmination of ancient Vietnamese spiritual perceptions relating to the river environment and the beliefs of the wet rice cultivators,’ said archaeologist Trinh Sinh. ‘Many people also exploited swampland and waterfront areas.’

According to Sinh, the custom of the Chau Can people of burying their dead in a boat-shaped coffin represents the daily life of people who exploited the lowlands. The lives of the farmers, attached as they were to rivers, was a tough one.

Treasures from the past

Treasures from the past

Buried in boats, the graves are ‘anchored’ under the ground with stakes because of the muddy land.

Past cultural glories

The ‘Vietnamese Archaeological Treasures’ exhibition also displays various archaeological objects from different eras, from the prehistoric period to the metal age and to modern times. Through the typical objects on display, the exhibition also introduces visitors to elements of Vietnamese cultural glories, such as Dong Son, Sa Huynh, Cham Pa and Oc Eo.

For example, the prehistoric space showcases tools, stone jewellery and pottery items discovered at different sites around the country. According to the Vietnam Museum of History, these artefacts were discovered during excavations at the Hang Hum Cave in northern Yen Bai province in 1964, with German assistance. Vietnamese and German archaeologists found many objects originating in the Neolithic Stone Age, or the so called ‘Son Vi’ culture.

Other outstanding archaeological items on display include those from the Dong Son culture in the north, Sa Huynh in the central region, and Dong Nai in the south, which are exhibited in the metal age space. Most are made of iron, stone, glass, wood and bronze and some were found in tombs, such as terracotta stoves discovered in the northern province of Bac Ninh and north-central Thanh Hoa province.

According to archaeologists, copper arrows found in Co Loa in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district reveal the copper casting techniques of ancient Vietnamese. It also shows that the legend of the god of An Duong Vuong isn’t just a product of the imagination. At Co Loa, besides warehouses, there were thousands of arrows unearthed, and Vietnamese archaeologists also found traces of foundries and foundry moulds.

Treasures from the past

There are also some still-intact models of terracotta houses. Archaeologists say that these tiny houses were found in several brick tombs in Thanh Hoa, Bac Ninh and Hanoi, and date back to the 1st to 3rd centuries, during the period of Chinese domination.

At first, researchers believed they were models of Chinese houses. In the process of researching and comparing them with original models from Vietnam’s Han culture, however, certain differences were found. They represent how quick the ancient Vietnamese were to adapt.

‘They were mandarin houses,’ said historical researcher Vu Quoc Hien. ‘This helps us imagine the lives of the upper residential class. Moreover, the houses show how ancient Vietnamese lived around 2,000 years ago.’

Another thing that makes the exhibition quite special is that all artefacts on display were discovered, unearthed and researched by Vietnamese archaeologists and collected from museums and exhibitors around the country. For example, the Linga and Yoni statues were borrowed from the My Son Museum, while others came from the Thang Long Imperial Citadel. This also explains why ‘Vietnamese Archaeological Treasures’ attracted so many visitors when exhibited in Germany in October 2016, before returning to Vietnam. ^

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