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Dong Son drum from Sông Đà, Mường Lay, Vietnam. Dong Son II culture. Mid-1st millennium BC. Bronze.

The Dong Son culture (named for Đông Sơn, a village in Vietnam) was a Bronze Age culture in ancient Vietnam centred at the Red River Valley of northern Vietnam from 1000 BC until the first century AD.[1]:207 It was the last great culture of Văn Lang and continued well into the period of the Âu Lạc state. Its influence spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, including Maritime Southeast Asia, from about 1000 BC to 1 BC.[2][3][4]

The Dong Son people, who are also known as Lạc or Lạc Việt, were skilled at cultivating rice, keeping water buffalos and pigs, fishing and sailing in long dugout canoes. They also were skilled bronze casters, which is evidenced by the Dong Son drum found widely throughout northern Vietnam and South China.

To the south of the Dong Son culture was the Sa Huỳnh culture of the proto-Chams.


According to some scholars, the Dong Son culture were most likely ethnically Li people (a Tai people), Austronesians, or both.[5]

On the other hand, Ferlus (2009) showed that the inventions of pestle, oar, and a pan to cook sticky rice, which is the main characteristic of the Đông Sơn culture, correspond to the creation of new lexicons for these inventions in Northern Vietic (Việt–Mường) and Central Vietic (Cuoi-Toum).[6] The new vocabularies of these inventions were proven to be derivatives from original verbs rather than borrowed lexical items. The current distribution of Northern Vietic also correspond to the area of Dong Son culture.

Thus, Ferlus conclude that the Dongsonian culture was of Vietic origin and they were the direct ancestors of modern Vietnamese people.[6]

Furthermore, John Phan (2013, 2016)[7][8] argues that “Annamese Middle Chinese” and northern Vietic was spoken in the Red River Valley and Annamese was later absorbed into the coexisting Proto-Viet-Muong, one of whose divergent dialect evolved into Vietnamese language.[9]


Close-up view of design of a typical Dong Son drum
Bronze figurine, Dong Son culture, from what is now Thailand

The origins of Dong Son culture may be traced back to ancient bronze castings. The traditional theory is based on the assumption that bronze casting in eastern Asia originated in northern China. However, according to archaeological discoveries in Isan, Thailand in the 1970s, the casting of bronze began in Southeast Asia first.[10] The Dong Son bronze industry has a local origin, equivalent in timing to the Gò Mun culture, 700-500 BC. This includes bronze axes, spearheads and knives. This was followed by daggers, swords, drums, and situla from 500-0 BC. Finally, Chinese seals, coins, mirrors and halberds appear in the first century AD.[1]:207

The bronze drums were used for war, "the chief summons the warriors of the tribe by beating the drum", when mourning, and during feasts. "The scenes cast onto the drums would inform us that the Dong Son leaders had access to bronze founders of remarkable skill." Lost-wax casting was based on Chinese founders, but the scenes are local, including drummers and other musicians, warriors, rice processing, birds, deer, war vessels, and geometric designs.[1]:200–202

The bronze drums were made in significant proportions in northern Vietnam and parts of Yunnan. The Dong Son bronze drums exhibit "remarkable skill". The Cổ Loa drum weighs 72 kilograms (159 lb) and would have required the smelting of between 1 and 7 tonnes (1.1 and 7.7 tons) of copper ore.[1]:200

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Higham, C., 2014, Early Mainland Southeast Asia, Bangkok: River Books Co., Ltd., ISBN 9786167339443
  2. ^ Vietnam Tours Archived 2013-04-26 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Nola Cooke, Tana Li, James Anderson - The Tongking Gulf Through History - Page 46 2011 -"Nishimura actually suggested the Đông Sơn phase belonged in the late metal age, and some other Japanese scholars argued that, contrary to the conventional belief that the Han invasion ended Đông Sơn culture, Đông Sơn artifacts, ..."
  4. ^ Vietnam Fine Arts Museum 2000 "... the bronze cylindrical jars, drums, Weapons and tools which were sophistically carved and belonged to the World famous Đông Sơn culture dating from thousands of years; the Sculptures in the round, the ornamental architectural Sculptures...."
  5. ^ Schliesinger, Joachim (2018). Origin of the Tai People 6―Northern Tai-Speaking People of the Red River Delta and Their Habitat Today Volume 6 of Origin of the Tai People. Booksmango,. pp. 3–4, 22. ISBN 1641531835.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  6. ^ a b Ferlus, Michael (2009). "A Layer of Dongsonian Vocabulary in Vietnamese" (PDF). Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. 1: 95–108.
  7. ^ Phan, John. 2013. Lacquered Words: the Evolution of Vietnamese under Sinitic Influences from the 1st Century BCE to the 17th Century CE. Ph.D. dissertation: Cornell University.
  8. ^ Phan, John D. & de Sousa, Hilário. 2016. A preliminary investigation into Proto-Southwestern Middle Chinese. (Paper presented at the International workshop on the history of Colloquial Chinese – written and spoken, Rutgers University, New Brunswick NJ, 11–12 March 2016.)
  9. ^ Phan, John. "Re-Imagining 'Annam': A New Analysis of Sino–Viet–Muong Linguistic Contact" in Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, Volume 4, 2010. pp. 22-3
  10. ^ Taylor, Keith W. (1991). The Birth of Vietnam. University of California Press. p. 313. ISBN 0-520-07417-3.

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