Middle Mekong Archaeological Project

Middle Mekong Archaeological Project (MMAP), conceived in 2001, seeks to investigate human settlement of the Mekong Valley with a research program beginning in Luang Prabang in northern Laos.

Since 2005, MMAP has conducted a groundbreaking collaborative research program of international researchers in this area, including surveys that have identified 69 archaeological sites and excavations at three cave sites. This archaeological fieldwork has yielded thousands of stone and ceramic artifacts, human skeletal remains, and other evidence from over 11,000 years of human habitation in the area. MMAP seeks to resolve long standing archaeological debates on when and how metallurgy and agriculture came to Southeast Asia. This joint project of The Penn Museum and the Department of Heritage, Laos is also helping budding Lao archaeologists and museologists to build capabilities for Lao cultural heritage preservation, by offering training in archaeological disciplines concurrent with research activities.

Photo caption: Cave site with evidence of prehistoric human habitation. More than 50 sites have been found, including cave sites and open air sites. The main goal is to find sites that had both flaked stone tools and earthenware pottery sherds. In theory, societies in transition between hunting-gathering and food production will have both technologies. Archaeologists assume that where concentrations of these artifacts are found on the surface at a particular site, they overlie deeper deposits of such artifacts. When excavated at a future date, sites like these could yield the scientific in situ evidence needed to address different theories of cultural development.

Luang Prabang province, northern Laos.

12,000 BCE to present

Joyce White, Penn Museum

Bounheuang Bouasisengpaseuth, Vientiane National Museum, Laos
Katherine Arrell, Leeds University, UK
Huw Barton, University of Leicester, UK
Korokot Boonlop, Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok
Sureeratana Bubpha,  Thammasat University, Bangkok
Elizabeth Hamilton, Penn Museum
Helen Lewis, University College Dublin, Ireland
Benjamin Marwick, University of Washington, Seattle
Gillian Thompson, University of Bradford, UK

Additional Sponsors
Henry R. Luce Foundation
National Geographic Society
National Science Foundation
Friends of Ban Chiang
Ministry of Information and Culture, Department of Heritage, Laos
University of Washington, Seattle
Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok
University College Dublin

Read the MMAP 2010 Season Blog

Visit the MMAP website


Read more at Antiquity, Vol 83, Issue 319, March 2009.



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