Monday, 28 January 2008

Ban Chiang National Museum

Ban Chiang National Museum,

Has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1992. Ban Chiang is the most modern and well maintained museum I've ever visited in Thailand so far.
Having said that, it took us a bit of reasoning with the staff at the entrance gate, to get me in at Thai rates, as already discussed during our visit to Phi Mai on our way to Udon Thani.

Ban Chiang is located very near the highway and from Korat to Khon Kaen/Udon Thani and is definitely worthwhile stopping at. The museum itself consists of only one building, but this building hosts plenty of artifacts. There's loads of information on the web to be found on Ban Chiang, including on the website of the University of Pennsylvania museum.

The archeological site of Ban Chiang is important evidence of a prehistoric population that settled in Southeast Asia more than 5.000 years ago. The population was culturally developed, as well as sociologically and technologically advanced.

The site of this early agricultural community, with also of metal production and use, was continuously occupied for about 3.800 years. Artifacts, including implements and ornaments of bronze and iron, as well as pottery with sophisticated and unique designs, attest to the advanced culture of this prehistoric settlement.

In addition to it's academic value, the Ban Chiang archeological site is also important because of the local community's participation in preservation efforts. Laws were enacted to protect the site, and a museum was established to disseminate information about it. Because of it's importance, the Royal Thai Government requested the World Heritage Commitee of Unesco to register the archeological site of Ban Chiang as a World Heritage Site. In 1992 Ban Chiang was listed as World Heritage Site Number 359, following registration criteria;

It represents a rare and unique monument or it attest to a tradition or civilization that is either active or already extinct.

Outside of the museum are a couple of souvenir shops that sell copies of the pottery, found at the archeological sites. It's beautifully designed and well worth picking up some items. They also sell T-shirts which spell 'Ban Chaing', which I discovered upon arrival home!

As already mentioned before, if in the neighbourhood, try to visit it.

Unfortunately, some of the artifacts have already gone missing, but an investigation led to retrieval of the artifacts and they may be returned to Thailand, as reported in The Nation today;

The Fine Arts Department has sought an investigation to establish if stolen artifacts uncovered following a crackdown in the United States belonged to the ancient Ban Chiang period.

Published on January 28, 2008

US authorities raided four museums in southern California last week, breaking an illegal network smuggling the items into the US.

The department wants the artefacts returned to the King-dom if they were found to be from Ban Chiang, the oldest known civilisation in the King-dom, which dates back to 1,000 BC.
Fine Arts Department director Kriangkrai Sampatchalit wanted clear proof about the artefacts. "We would ask Unesco's International Council of Museums to check whether they are genuine objects. If they are real we would provide historical evidence to prove they belong to Thailand," he said by phone yesterday.

Dozens of US federal agents descended on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pasa-dena's Pacific Asia Museum, Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and Mingei International Museum in San Diego.

The raids marked the first public move in a five-year undercover probe of the alleged smuggling network, The Los Angeles Time reported on Friday.

The detailed warrants gave agents broad authority to search the museums' galleries, offices, storage areas and computer archives.

They were looking for objects and records related to the primary targets of the investigation: an alleged art smuggler, Robert Olson, and the owner of a Los Angeles Asian art gallery, Jonathan Markell.

Markell's Silk Roads Gallery on La Brea Avenue was also raided.
No arrests were made, but legal experts say the surprise search warrants suggest prosecutors are collecting the final elements to seek criminal indictments against Markell and Olson, the paper said.

Many objects come from the ancient civilisation of Ban Chiang, which occupied northeastern Thailand from 1000 BC to 200 AD.

"The original location where the Ban Chiang culture was discovered was named a World Heritage Site in 1992 and is considered the most important pre-historic settlement yet discovered in Southeast Asia," the search warrants said.

The warrants allege that the Ban Chiang objects are probably looted because they were first excavated by archaeologists in 1967, six years after Thailand banned the export of antiquities.
The Thai government never gave permission for the contested antiquities to leave the country.
Moreover, importing such objects into the US after 1979 was a violation of the US National Stolen Property Act and the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, the warrants state.
Other objects named in the warrants came from Burma, from which the US has banned imports since 2003, and China, which has strict export laws governing its antiquities.

The investigation began in 2003, when the undercover agent with the National Park Service posed as a buyer and began purchasing allegedly looted art from Olson, according to the warrants. Olson, the warrants say, specialises in Native American and Thai antiquities.
Olson allegedly told the agent he had been importing objects from Ban Chiang since the 1980s and had never received a permit from the Thai government. He said he got objects "as they were being dug up" and knew it was illegal to ship them out of the country, the warrants say.
The smuggled antiquities were affixed with "Made in Thailand" labels, and sometimes painted over to make them look to US customs officials like modern replicas, Olson allegedly told the agent.

Mayuree Sukyingcharoenwong

Los Angeles Times
The Nation

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