Be the Historian!

What is it?

Historians who work with material objects must examine and describe them carefully in order to draw conclusions about the societies in which they were produced. Often, historians are confronted with objects that they know very little about. These observation skills are especially important for historians who study “prehistoric” civilizations—those that left no written records. Historians must “read” objects to learn about the society, culture, and practices of these civilizations.


Keep in mind that these same skills are useful to scholars who work on periods from which we also have texts. Much of written history only tells us about the concerns and opinions of a very select group of people. Objects can help us recover the histories of communities who, for various reasons, were not able to give voice to their concerns, beliefs, and contributions to the history of the world.

The Task:
The object that you will analyze in this exercise was found during an archaeological dig at an ancient site in Thailand known as Banchiang.


This object is representative of the kinds of objects that are associated with a prehistoric culture in the region. Occupation at the site began as early as 3600 BCE and probably ended in the 1st century CE. This society left no written records, and we don’t even know what it was called. Archaeologists refer to this civilization as the Banchiang Culture, named for the site at which the objects were first found.


Answer the following questions about this object. What can we deduce about the society that produced it?

[Click to enlarge]

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