Hunter-Gatherer Mortuary Variability in Vietnam

Marc Oxenham, Anna Willis, Lan Cuong Nguyen, Hirofumi Matsumura

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter reviews the evidence for deliberate human burial practices in Vietnam from the Late Pleistocene through to the Mid-Holocene (or the Hòabìnhian to Đa Bút cultural periods) and contextualizes the findings with developments in the rest of Mainland and Island Southeast Asia. It discusses burial practices, and associated evidence for dating, for 18 Hòabìnhian cave sites, three Đa Bút open air cemeteries, and a range of early burials from Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Key findings include: (1) burial practices from the Late Pleistocene through to the Mid-Holocene were clearly varied and diverse; (2) despite the earliest clear evidence of Anatomically Modern Human remains at circa 50,000 years ago, the first clear signs of deliberate mortuary behavior does not occur until circa 20,000 years ago; (3) three main burial positions can be observed: side flexed (body on side and legs/arms flexed), supine flexed (body on back with flexed legs/arms), and squatting (body seated/squatting in upright position), with no clear evidence for extended supine burial positioning until the Neolithic; (4) in general, during the Hòabìnhian individuals have either their feet or heads oriented toward cave openings, while in the Đa Bút cemeteries squatting burials (which are the norm) face in an easterly direction; (6) cremation and the use of ocher were not uncommon, while there is limited verifiable evidence for the use of grave goods in pre-Neolithic Southeast Asia.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Early Southeast Asia
EditorsCharles F. W. Higham, Nam C. Kim
PublisherOxford Univerity Press; Oxford
ISBN (Print)9780199355358
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Vietnam
  • burial practice
  • Neolithic
  • Hoabinhian
  • mortuary
  • variability


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