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Oc Eo (Vietnam)

Funan Culture Site in Vietnam

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Statue of Hindu god Vishnu, discovered at Oc Eo, Vietnam and dated to the 6th-7th century AD.

Statue of Hindu god Vishnu, discovered at Oc Eo, Vietnam and dated to the 6th-7th century AD.

Doktor Max
Map of Canal 4 from Angkor Borei to Oc Eo

Map of Canal 4 from Angkor Borei to Oc Eo

École Française d’Extrême-Orient

Oc Eo is a very large (~450 hectares, or 1,100 acres) Funan culture walled settlement and capital in the Mekong Valley of Vietnam. The Funan culture was the precursor to the flowering of the Angkor Civilization; Oc Eo and Angkor Borei (in what is Cambodia) were two of the main centers of Funan.

Oc Eo was discovered by Wu dynasty Chinese visitors Kang Dai and Zhu Ying about 250 AD. Documents in mainland China written by these men described Funan as a sophisticated country ruled by a king in a walled palace, complete with a taxation system and people living on houses raised on stilts.

Archaeological investigations at Oc Eo support the description of fortifications and residences. An extensive canal system and brick temple foundations have been found; houses were built on wooden pilings to raise them above the frequent flooding of the Mekong delta region. Trade goods at Oc Eo are known to have come from Rome, India and China. Inscriptions in Sanskrit found at Oc Eo refer to King Jayavarman who fought a great battle against an unnamed rival king and founded many sanctuaries dedicated to Vishnu.

Canal 4 from Angkor Borei

Canal 4 was one of four canals leading out from the Funan agrarian center of Angkor Borei which were first mapped by aerial photographer Pierre Paris in the 1930s. Subsequent excavations by Louis Malleret in the 1940s, survey led by Janice Stargardt in the 1970s and more aerial mapping by Finnmap Oy in 1992-1993 added more information.

Canal 4 is the longest of these canals, leading ~80 kilometers (~50 miles) in a straight line from Angkor Borei to Oc Eco. Investigations were undertaken in 2004 within a 30 meter (100 foot) segment of Canal 4 about halfway between Angkor Borei and Oc Eo (Sanderson 2007). The canal trench, at that point approximately 70 m (230 ft) wide, contained more than 100 wood fragments, and a large collection of pottery sherds within an organic-rich layer.

Bishop and colleagues relocated Paris' canals, and using luminescence dating techniques on the canal sediments, dated the abandonment of Canals 1 and 2 to the early fifth to early sixth centuries. Canal 4, reported in Sanderson 2007, contained less clear cut evidence: dates from the infill were widely varied, possibly as a result from the Funan culture using parts of existing paleo-channel systems to construct their canals.

Archaeology

Oc Eo was excavated by Louis Malleret in the 1940s, who identified the extensive water control system, monumental architecture and a wide variety of international trade goods. In the 1970s, after a long hiatus including World War II and the Vietnam War, Vietnamese archaeologists began research in the Mekong based at the Social Science Institute at Ho Chi Minh city.

Recent investigation into the canals at Oc Eo suggest that they once connected the city with the capital of Angkor Borei, the agrarian capital of the Funan culture, and may well have facilitated the remarkable trade network spoken of by the Wu emperor's agents.

Sources

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology and the About.com Guide to the Silk Road.

Bacus EA. 2001. Archaeology of Southeast Asia. In: Editors-in-Chief:  Smelser NJ, and Baltes PB, editors. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Oxford: Pergamon. p 14656-14661.

Bishop P, Sanderson DCW, and Stark MT. 2004. OSL and radiocarbon dating of a pre-Angkorian canal in the Mekong delta, southern Cambodia. Journal of Archaeological Science 31(3):319-336.

Higham C. 2008. ASIA, SOUTHEAST | Early States and Civilizations. In: Editor-in-Chief:  Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. p 796-808.

Sanderson DCW, Bishop P, Stark M, Alexander S, and Penny D. 2007. Luminescence dating of canal sediments from Angkor Borei, Mekong Delta, Southern Cambodia. Quaternary Geochronology 2:322–329.

Sanderson DCW, Bishop P, Stark MT, and Spencer JQ. 2003. Luminescence dating of anthropogenically reset canal sediments from Angkor Borei, Mekong Delta, Cambodia. Quaternary Science Reviews 22(10–13):1111-1121.

Stark MT, Griffin PB, Phoeurn C, Ledgerwood J, Dega M, Mortland C, Dowling N, Bayman JM, Sovath B, Van T et al. 1999. Results of the 1995-1996 Archaeological Field Investigations at Angkor Borei, Cambodia. Asian Perspectives 38(1):7-36.

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