Oakaie region of Myanmar Bronze Age & Iron Age

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A Bronze Age skeleton uncovered by archaeologists in Sagaing Division. Photo: Daw Thu Thu Win/Mandalay Department of Archaeology
  • By Maung Tha
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A portion of the Bronze Age cemetery uncovered by archaeologists in Sagaing Division. Photo: Thu Thu Win/Mandalay Department of Archaeology

Myanmar went through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Pyu Age with scholars and researchers surveying historic records which have shed light on ancient Myanmar historical legends and tales.
Primitive men were generally believed to have lived in urban areas near the river basins where a clean water was kept in an abundant supply. The remains of implements and tools in ancient cities were on these basins , letting researchers and scholars assess their culture and traditions.

Stone Age in Myanmar
The present-day Myanmar people have evolved from human-like primates who lived in Myanmar 40 million years ago. Primates started to use implements and tools at a period of relatively high culture, thereby letting researchers distinguish at which Age (Bronze or Iron) primates used these tools. Geologist Professor Dr. Nyi Nyi divided the Stone Age into the Palaeolithic Age, Mesolithic Age and Neolithic Age; there was no existence of Mesolithic Age in Myanmar, he continued to write about our ancient history. According to basic history of Myanmar, there were evidences of Palaeolithic Age and Neolithic Age , with discoveries of very few evidences of the Mesolithic Age. But the period between the two Ages could be generally assumed to be the Mesolithic Age.
Between one million years and ten thousand years, heavy rain poured out all over grassy plains in Myanmar, creating a layer of lateritic pebbles by means of erosion. Five terraced deposits along the Ayeyarwady Valley created the present-day Sale Town and Chauk Town within the duration of million of years. Weapons and chopping tools of Paleolithic Age were found among one to four terraced deposits and the Neolithic Age was discovered terrace of the river bank. A lot of Paleolithic Age weapons were found in Upper Myanmar and so Paleolithic Age was dubbed as the Anyathian Culture by researchers.
The culture of Myanmar Stone Age flourished between five to six and ten thousand years ago. In Myanmar, the culture of late Stone Age or that of New Stone Age flourished in some areas in Salingyi Town, some areas in Kani town , some areas in Chaung-U, some from Monwya and some areas from including Oakaie from Butalin Township.
Myanmar Bronze Age evidences in Nyaungkan Village Myanmar primate anthropoids went through the Paleolithic Age, Mesolithic Age and Neolithic Age and are believed by researchers to have reached to the Bronze Age since circa. 3500 years when they started to use weapons and tools on bronze metals. Myanmar Archaeology Department started recent excavations in 1904 and no evidences of the Bronze Age were found up until 1998. T. O. Morris who wrote an essay on Myanmar Stone Age said that he found bronze axes and arrows in Myanmar and wrote about them in vol.28 issue of Journal of Burma Research Society in 1938. He wrote about the bronze weapons found on the ground not from excavations, so the period of the Myanmar Bronze Age and the culture in that period cannot be described firmly.
In the course of world history, primate anthropoids went the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, but some foreign researchers believed that there was no existence of the Bronze Age in Myanmar.
Between 1998 and 1999 the researchers and scholars excavated an ancient graveyard , near Nyaungkan village , Butalin Town, finding a buried corpse surfacing and establishing a concept of the Bronze Age in Myanmar. Three more excavations revealed a lot of anthropoid fossils including cadavers, bronze tools and weapons, partially depicting a Myanmar Bronze Age culture. The place of flourishing culture is located one mile southwest of the village at northerly lat. of 22 degrees, 24 min, 40 sec and eastern long. Of 95 degrees, 3 min 28 sec and 500 feet above the sea level. The graveyard where three excavations were carried out is 250 feet long from the south to north and 130 feet from the east to west.

Some villagers from nearby villages often found ancient bronze
Artisfacts, human bones and broken pots near the Shinmachauk Hill some years back. The place once used to a graveyard and later that cultivated land belongs to U Chit Hlaing of Ywatha Village. He started hill-side cultivation by clearing underbrush and bushes, thereby finding human bones, earthen pots and bronze weapons. ‘A committee for studying evidences on ancient cultures’ was formed with scholars and members from Ministry of Defence Strategic Studies, Yangon University, Archaeology Department, Anthropology Department and Ministry of Culture. The Committee carried out extensive excavations systematically from January, 1998 towards the end of March , 1999.
Three excavations of land were demarcated into plots, revealing evidences about the Myanmar Bronze Age. Then the landowner U Chit Hlaing donated the land plot to the State, with demarcation of Cultural Zone for Nyaungkan Bronze Age by the Ministry of Culture.
These excavations revealed a lot of evidences about the Myanmar Bronze Age in Nyaungkan Village—two earthen smoking pipes, four bronze axes, five perforated beads, 23 slender-shaped beads, five bronze bayonets, six bronze arrows, five broken urns with designs and many others; these Bronze Age exhibits were donated on 22 March , 1998 to the Ministry of Culture to be displayed at the National Museum. The news of handing over the bronze artifacts to the Ministry appeared on the Myanma Alinn and the Mirror dailies on 23 March, 1998.
The Bronze Age and Iron Age in the Oakaie village The culture of the Bronze Age is culturally by that of the iron Age. Pieces of the Bronze Age artifacts were found on the farmland of U Phyu who lived in the north side of Oakaie village, about two miles away from Nyaungkan village. The pieces were believed to be fragments of bronze weapons and tools covered with fungoid growths which were found among the stream banks collapsed by erosion. Therefore the Oakaie village was assumed as the place where the culture of the Bronze Age once flourished as in the Nyaungkan village.
The Oakaie village is a place where culture flourished from the Stone Age to the Iron Age and it is situated in the Nyaungkan village tract, Butalin township, Sagaing Region A Survey team led by Professor U San Nyein of Archaeology , Yangon University excavated two plots of land near Oakaie Village in 1998, finding many implements and tools.

Similarly, French scholars from National Centre for Scientific
Research in cooperation with Myanmar Department of National Museums carried out extensive excavations of the Bronze Age and Iron Age in Oakaie village from 2014 to 2015. Excavations covered three plots of land with five meters in circumference; excavating a plot of land with a length of one meter and a width of five meters revealed fossil bones of humans and animals, bronze axes, bone bracelets, anklets and beads, earthen plates and mussels were also found in the excavations.
Among the Oakaie excavations in 2014, five human fossil bones were found almost intact among the 23 human bones. The 22 remains were buried towards north and the rest towards the south.
In other Bronze Age and iron Age, the remains of the babies were put in big pots before burial; the lids of these pots were in touch with an opposite position. But remains in big pots were not found in Oakaie region; utensils such as earthen pots, plates and bowls were buried along with seven human fossil bones like other Bronze Age and Iron Age. On fossil bones were found ornaments such as stone and bone beads wearing up to their necks and waists. A bracelet was found near human bones; it was assumed by the Archaeology Department that she did not wear it when she was alive, but buried it along with her remains.
Whenever excavations on a place where the Bronze Age and iron Age flourished were carried out, mussels were usually found.
In 2015 Oakaie excavations, a plot of land No.1 revealed 26 human bones, earthen pot lids made of animal bones, ornaments such as stone bracelets ,beads and utilities such as earthen pots and bowls and traditional use of mussels. The Plot No. 2 unveiled 9 fossil human bones, stone bracelets ornamental stone weapons and pots and broken earthen pots with designs and customary use of mussels. Many human bones were found wrapped with a piece of cloth and bamboo map.
Statements released by the Archaeology Department described how human beings were buried individually, en masse , wrapping up with cloth and bamboo, burials in coffins and the baby remains in big pots.
By means of excavations near the Nyaungkan and Oakaie villages, more evidences with prehistoric culture in these regions were registered.
In addition, cultural evidences of Oakaie region Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age could be compared to those of the other Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Therefore excavations on the Bronze Age and the Iron Age should continue so that prehistoric times in Myanmar could be vividly described.
Translated by Arakan Sein
Ref: Proceedings of the Workshop on Bronze Age culture in Myanmar (Universities Historical Research Centre)
Research trip on Myanmar Bronze Age( U San Win, Archaeology)
Stone Age Culture in Chindwin Valley (Shinchan)

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