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Ref ID: 37322
Ref Type: Journal Article
Authors: Pradier, Baptiste
Kyaw, Aung Aung
Win, Tin Tin
Willis, Anna
Favereau, Aude
Valentin, Frédérique
Pryce, Thomas Oliver
Title: Pratiques funéraires et dynamique spatiale à Oakaie 1, une nécropole à la transition du Néolithique à l’Âge du Bronze au Myanmar (Birmanie)
Date: 2019
Source: Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française
Language: French
Abstract: In Southeast Asia, the late prehistoric period, from the appearance of farming to the rise of proto-states, lasts only 1500-2000 years,
and is thus extremely brief in comparison to Europe. Cemeteries represent critical sites in the chronological and cultural understanding
of these changes, stimulated by influences from both China and India. Myanmar is the only Southeast Asia nation to share terrestrial
frontiers with both these vast neighbours, but in comparison even with Thailand and Viet Nam, archaeological investigation in
Myanmar is in a phase of rapid expansion. As such, the late prehistoric dataset is beginning to offer opportunities for detailed and
synthetic interpretations of this critical transitional period. This present study attempts a fine phasing of a Late Neolithic to Early Bronze
Age site, Oakaie 1, in the Sagaing Division of central Myanmar. Oakaie 1 is a well preserved cemetery at the heart of a rich
archaeological area, which was investigated by the French Archaeological Mission in Myanmar (MAFM) between 2014 and 2016. As a
result of these efforts, the Oakaie area has the most secure radiometric chronological sequence in Myanmar, with 52 determinations,
and has been the focus of a number of advanced approaches, many of them firsts for the country. The excavation of the Oakaie 1
cemetery, during two four-week field seasons in 2014-15, lead to the exposure of 55 graves containing 57 individuals. This discovery
gave us the opportunity to study the evolution of funerary practices in a single cemetery over a period of several centuries. The Oakaie
1 graves were cut in a hard volcanic tuff and filled with a more humid and brown soil, which made them extremely easy to recognize.
The graves are arranged in well-defined rows, following one of two orientations, N-S or NNW-SSE. The graves are mainly single
primary supine extended burials but some nine graves contain at least two individuals, and maybe more. One grave also contains the
burial of a dog. The taphonomic analysis of the burials shows that most of the bodies decomposed within an open volume. The study
of the constraints marked on the skeletons shows that a common type of container, a hollowed out tree trunk was probably used
throughout the cemetery, with some differences in terms of narrowness. Taphonomic study of the multiple graves has failed to
establish whether individuals were buried simultaneously. The main grave good is pottery, which was deposited in various places
around the body, mainly on the lower limbs and during the filling of the graves. Some ornaments were found, consisting of beads,
made of stone and shell, as well as bangles made of stone and animal bone. Only one grave, S15, furnished a metal artefact, a
socketed bronze axe. Graves goods were quite sparse throughout the cemetery, as compared to its well-known neighbour,
Nyaung’gan, with the exception of S15, which contained by far the most pottery, in addition to the sole bronze. The comprehensive
study of the cemetery’s spatial organization, the intercutting of the burials, the funerary practices as identified via taphonomic analysis,
and the study of the grave goods lead us to propose three main phases of funerary use. The first is characterized by primary supine
extended burials disposed in rows, with the graves oriented on a N-S axis. The burials were predominantly individual but three graves
contained two individuals. Two further graves may also contain multiple burials. The phase one grave goods were very limited, a single
pot of an almost universally homogenous form was placed during the filling of the grave. Ornaments made from shell or animal bone
were rare. Two bivalve shells were found as a baby’s grave good. The second phase of burials were also primary supine extended
graves in clear rows but oriented on a NNW-SSE axis. The graves were mainly individual but multiple graves were nevertheless
frequent, and systematically contain an adult with a child, in one case two children. The grave goods were mainly pots, deposited on
the lower limbs of the individuals. The pottery assemblage could be clearly differentiated from the first phase in its style and presents
an internally homogeneous group. Ornaments grave goods were more frequent and examples made from hard stone and in bangle
form appear. Bivalve shell deposits were found within the grave goods of very young children, with the exception of one adult. The third
burial phase is represented by a single grave containing one individual. This grave, S15, contains far more grave goods than any other
in the Oakaie 1 cemetery, comprising 19 pots, one bronze axe and a stone bead. S15 represents a strong match to some of the burials
at the neighbouring (2.7 km) cemetery site, Nyaung’gan. The three phases identified at Oakaie 1 could theoretically represent as many
populations. However, the cultural basis of each phase is clearly inter-related and leads us to propose that the cemetery – the area
that could be excavated at least -was used by the same population over cyclical periods for a substantial length of time. This model is
supported not only by the taphonomic analysis but also that of the ceramics and the strontium isotope signatures. The third phase,
representing the shift to the Bronze Age at around 1000 BC, cannot be evaluated in detailed due to a lack of evidence but shows that
while funerary practices changed significantly, the individual is highly likely to be a descendent, culturally at least, of the two preceding
Volume: 116
Number: 3
Page Start: 539
Page End: 560