Pratiques funéraires et dynamique spatiale à Oakaie 1: Une nécropole à la transition du Néolithique à l’âge du Bronze au Myanmar (Birmanie) [Funerary practices and spatial dynamic at Oakaie 1, a burial ground at the transition of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Myanmar (Burma)]

Pradier, Baptiste, Kyaw, Aung Aung, Win, Tin Tin, Willis, Anna, Favereau, Aude, Valentin, Frederique, and Pryce, T.O (2019) Pratiques funéraires et dynamique spatiale à Oakaie 1: Une nécropole à la transition du Néolithique à l’âge du Bronze au Myanmar (Birmanie) [Funerary practices and spatial dynamic at Oakaie 1, a burial ground at the transition of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Myanmar (Burma)]. Bulletin de la Societe Prehistorique Francaise, 116 (3). pp. 539-560.

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En Asie du Sud-Est, la fin de la préhistoire – de l’apparition de l’agriculture à la naissance de proto-États – ne dure que de 1500 à 2000 ans. Les cimetières sont des sites essentiels pour comprendre ces changements marqués par des influences culturelles indiennes et chinoises. Le Myanmar est le seul pays d’Asie du Sud-Est avec lequel ces pays partagent une frontière terrestre. Les données archéologiques nouvellement acquises pour le Myanmar permettent d’éclairer cette période charnière. Cet article présente les résultats de l’étude de la nécropole d’Oakaie 1 (région de Sagaing), fouillée durant deux saisons entre 2014 et 2015 dans le cadre de la Mission Archéologique Française au Myanmar (MAFM). La nécropole est datée entre la fin du Néolithique et le début de l’âge du Bronze. Les 55 sépultures et 57 inhumés mis au jour permettent d’analyser l’évolution des pratiques funéraires pendant plusieurs siècles. L’organisation de l’espace sépulcral est particulière. Les fosses, organisées en rangées sont distribuées selon deux grandes orientations, N-S et NNO-SSE. Les inhumations sont individuelles ou plurielles (9 cas) et, dans un cas, un chien a été inhumé avec des humains. L’analyse taphonomique suggère l’usage de contenants périssables larges ou étroits, avec des bords montants, probablement des troncs d’arbres évidés. Les biens funéraires les plus communs sont des céramiques généralement placées près des membres inférieurs ou dans le comblement de la fosse. Des éléments de parure (perles en coquillages et en pierre, bracelets en pierre polie et en matière dure animale) étaient aussi associés aux défunts, tandis qu’une unique sépulture a fourni un objet en métal (une hache en bronze). L’usage croisé de critères variés, dont l’organisation spatiale de la nécropole, les recoupements de sépultures, les pratiques funéraires et le mobilier déposé auprès des défunts a permis d’établir que la nécropole a fonctionné durant trois phases. La première est caractérisée par 20 inhumations orientées dans un axe N-S, généralement individuelles, dotées d’un mobilier funéraire réduit constitué d’une seule céramique et de rares éléments de parure en coquillage et matière dure animale. La deuxième phase est composée de 30 sépultures orientées dans un axe NNO-SSE. Elles contiennent des inhumations individuelles et plurielles associées à des céramiques distinctes de celles rencontrées lors de la première phase et à des objets de parures, dont certains sont d’origine exotique, plus nombreux et plus fréquents. La troisième phase est représentée par une inhumation, exceptionnellement riche pour la nécropole. Le défunt était associé à 19 céramiques, une perle en pierre et une hache en bronze. Ce dépôt présente un parallèle avec des sépultures de la nécropole de Nyaung’gan située à 2,7 km de Oakaie 1. Notre analyse permet d’établir que les deux premières phases correspondent à une utilisation intermittente de la nécropole par une même population alors que la troisième marque une rupture lié à l’introduction du métal.

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 phases.

Item ID: 61440
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 0249-7638
Keywords: Southeast Asia, Myanmar, Burma, Neolithic, Bronze Age, archaeothanatology, spatial organization
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Full text in French

Funders: Ministère de l’Europe et des affaires étrangères, l’université Paris Nanterre
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2020 07:50
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4301 Archaeology > 430102 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas @ 100%
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