Identity and community structure in Neolithic Man Bac, Northern Vietnam

Marc Oxenham* (Corresponding Author), Hiep Hoang Trinh, Hirofumi Matsumura, Kate Domett, Damien Huffer, Rebecca Crozier, Nguyen Lan Cuong, Clare McFadden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the evidence for social structuring principles and other aspects of identity at Man Bac, an early Neolithic (2066-1523 cal. BCE) community in northern Vietnam. Drawing on a wealth of work over the past 15 years, we examine identity with respect to three fundamental classes of data: intrinsic biological variables (age-at-death, sex, kin group, biological ancestry), mortuary treatment, and body modification (patterned tooth removal, or ablation). We find that kin groups, biologically and affinally defined, likely played a substantive structuring role at Man Bac. Moreover, a political tension between genetically and phenotypically distinct groups inhabiting Man Bac appears to be visible in the mortuary record. Social organization aside, shells appear to have had a significant role in referencing cosmological and gendered aspects of identity. Nephrite, with regard to some artefact types, would appear to cite magico-religious and/or elite status components of identity. While unique items, such as a ceramic copy of a barrel drum, may have spoken to exchanges of shamanistic beliefs between northern Vietnam and what is now southern China. Identity at Man Bac would appear to have been complex, fluid, negotiable, and ever changing; or just what one might expect.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100282
Number of pages13
JournalArchaeological Research in Asia
Early online date18 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by JSPS fund 16H02527 and Australian Research Council grant DP0774079.
Many people have been involved in the excavation and post-excavation work associated with Man Bac over the years. Here we wish to pay special thanks to Nguyen Kim Dung (then of the Institute of Archaeology, Hanoi) who co-directed the excavations in 2004/5 and 2007. The following were involved in either one or several ways between 2004/5 and 2007 (facilitation of land access, excavation, post-excavation analysis, and ublication): Nguyen Hann Khang and Nguyen Cao Tan (Ninh Binh Provincial Museum, Vietnam), the landowner of Man Bac Nguyen Van Sai, the Chung Village community, Peter Bellwood and Lorna Tilley (Australian National University), Nguyen Giang Hai (former Director, Institute of Archaeology, Hanoi), Nguyen Kim Thuy, Nguyen An Tuan, Vu The Long, Tran Thi Thuy Ha, Bui Thu Phuong, Ha Manh Thang, Nguyen Ngoc Quy, Vo Thanh Huong, Nguyen Chi Tan, Nguyen Thi Mai Huong (Institute of Archaeology, Hanoi), Mariko Yamagata (Okayama Science University, Japan), Ken-ichi Shidoda (National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan), Yukio Dodo (formerly of Tohoku University, Japan), Takeji Toizumi (Meiji University, Japan), Junmei Sawada (Nigata University of Health and Welfare, Japan), Mark Lipson (Harvard Medical School, USA), Anna Willis (James Cook University, Australia). Many thanks to Jeff Oliver for reading and commenting on an earlier draft.


  • Funerary archaeology
  • Body modification
  • Kinship
  • Shell objects
  • Nephrite ornaments
  • Ceramic drums


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