The Dig at Noen U Loke

Noen U Loke is the third area in the Huai Yai valley of Northeast Thailand that Charles Higham has excavated under the Origins of Angkor project attempting to define early history in the area.

We set out for the dig each morning in a blue bus over rough roads, to the town of Ban Nong Na, then walked across rice paddies to the site at Noen U Loke.

When we arrived the "dig" looked just as it had in the briefing book (though what we had seen in the book was a different site altogether). We looked down into pits about twelve feet deep, to a burial ground with several skeletons exposed, and funeral pots all around. The burials exposed during that first week of my group's tenure were numbers 42 to 50, so obviously Higham had hit a good spot to dig. As we awkwardly scraped away at the soil, Thai workers hauled the dirt we excavated up to the surface and screened it for potsherds and so on.
One of the Earthwatchers exclaimed, "I told my friends I was going to go play at being an archaeologist. But look, I found a body yesterday, and today a bronze bangle and I'm actually WORKING at being an archaeologist, not just PLAYING!"

As burials were fully uncovered, they were sketched and cleaned and photographed, then carefully removed from the resting place where they'd been for more than 2000 years.

Charles patiently showed us the tiger-tooth bangles on the bronze necklace around one skeleton's neck; Kaek showed us the fish bones she'd recovered from the pots. Nancy Tayles, a medical anthropologist, taught her grad students to brush the teeth in the unearthed skulls and observed the good shape they were in - diets of fish and rice were healthy!
The Principal Investigators, Charles Higham and Rachanie Thosarat, ("Kaek") and the Earthwatchers and grad students under their tutelage, brushed away the last of the ancient dirt clinging to the bones.
I'd always been interested in pottery, had made pots at one point in my life, so I was especially interested in the potsherds and the way the pots had been made in that iron-age time two thousand years ago. I happily accepted the task of cleaning and drying the sherds as they were recovered from the dig!

This is me on the right, washing pots. (My husband says I went halfway around the world to do the dishes!)

Self-proclaimed "snailologist" Graham Mason (left), a "Kiwi" (New Zealander like Higham and company) looked at the contents of the pots as they were excavated and found a great many snails - escargot were standard fare, apparently, in that time long ago.
Working on the surface had its advantages - I was always on hand for tea breaks and the delicious lunches we'd toted out on the bus from the kitchen at the Phi Mai Inn. After hours working in the heat, the spicy Thai food and fresh fruits were very welcome. I can still taste those spears of fresh pineapple!

Right, the potsherds spread out to dry.


ęClare Durst 1997