Ban Chiang Metal Age Economy and its 21st Century Implications. A Talk by Joyce White



Ban Chiang is renowned for its early metallurgy, even if dates are debated. How to interpret the metals’ evidence in terms of their technology and social roles? The place metals had in prehistoric societies is another area of scholarly debate. While ‘getting into the weeds’ of the data over many years, White came to appreciate the decentralised system for the production and distribution of metal products in prehistoric Thailand. This decentralised economic structure contrasts with conventional interpretations of ancient metals that emphasise centralised, ‘top-down’ perspectives. White developed a ‘bottom up’ framework for interpreting Ban Chiang’s and Thailand’s prehistoric metallurgy, based on the economic ‘law of comparative advantage.’ The same law underlies the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, one of the world’s largest free-trade deals) and even Thailand’s OTOP (one tambon, one product) initiative. Come hear the story of how the study of prehistoric Thailand’s metals is upending the conventional paradigm for understanding the social role of ancient metals.


Prof Dr Joyce White is a Consulting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Penn, and Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Southeast Asian Archaeology (ISEAA). She has particular interest in studying how, when and why agriculture and metallurgy first appeared in Southeast Asia. Exploring Mekong prehistory grew out of her long-term research on the site of Ban Chiang, Thailand, that was excavated in the mid-1970s by Penn Museum and the Thai Fine Arts Department (FAD). She lived in Ban Chiang village 1979–1981, when she investigated local knowledge of native plants. Her recent Ban Chiang-related endeavours have focused on publishing (with collaborators) monographs on the excavation evidence, including currently a four-volume suite on the ancient metallurgy in regional context.

Date: Thursday 16 January 2020
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

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The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2019-2020 Lecture Series.