I was born in Vietnam.
As I am writing these words, I reflect upon what that actually means in the truest and deepest sense of the word. Out of the shadowy recesses of my native land’s past, swirling with mist and cannon smoke, I can barely see the outlines of those who came before me; those fleeting, familiar faces of a thousand years in the past; those who called themselves Vietnamese.
The smoke and mist gets thicker the farther back I try to peer. After two-thousand years, there are no faces left, only vague forms. Past that, there is only darkness.
And there it stayed…DARK—for thousands of years.
I grew up thinking we were just a tiny subset of a huge and powerful civilization to the north that was far, far older in documented history; a civilization that invented a thousand important things, from ceramic, to paper, to silk. As for us Vietnamese, we were documented as inventing absolutely, positively nothing, our society not technologically and advanced enough to have mental giants capable of doing such feats. I thought we invented fish sauce, but even that’s up for debate because historically, the Greeks have claim to the idea first.
The Chinese to the north were a rich and powerful country and we were the poor wannabes to the south who could barely clothe and feed our own people. I grew up thinking that the reason why the Vietnamese language and customs and culture was so similar to the Chinese was because we copied them, being unable to come up with anything original ourselves.
I am so very sorry.
I can only beg my ancestors for forgiveness. I didn’t know. How could I? We were never told the truth, and the truth is:
Ancient Việt land, south of the Yellow River, is the cradle of Asian civilization!
So how did we go from being the inventor of NOTHING to being the cradle of Asian civilization? Obviously, we do not have the historical writings to back this up. All of our long and illustrious history had gotten erased over two-thousand years ago and suppressed on pain of death and dismemberment.
And besides, historical writings are hardly the anchoring points with which to nail one’s evidence on as everyone knows that history is written by the victors and may not necessarily come anywhere close to being the truth.
No, this is an extraordinary claim, and as Carl Sagan says, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ So with little historical writings to back this up, where would my ‘extraordinary evidence’ come from?
Two words—archaeogenetics and archaeology.
Let’s start with Archaeogenetics, as it takes the genes to make the people who create a civilization.
Archaeogenetics is the relatively new method of scientifically studying the human past by applying the techniques of molecular population genetics by using several methods: analysis of DNA recovered from archaeological remains, analysis of DNA from modern populations, and the application of statistical and mathematical methods to tie the archaeological and the genetic material together.
This method has only recently been available to us due to the groundbreaking work of geneticists who were able to completely sequence the human genome. With that scientific blue print, scientists are now able to trace human lineages backwards into the far, distant past and shed a pure light of knowledge onto what was previously murky and indistinct.
This is the opening statement from a document released in 1992 by a group of geneticists with the Genetics Society of America.
Human mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) from 153 independent samples encompassing seven Asian populations were surveyed for sequence variation using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), restric-tion endonuclease analysis and oligonucleotide hybridization.
All Asian populations were found to share two ancient AluIIDdeI polymorphisms at nps 10394 and 10397 and to be genetically similar indicating that they share a common ancestry. The greatest mtDNA diversity and the highest frequency of mtDNAs with HfiaI/HincII morph 1 were observed in the Vietnamese suggesting a Southern Mongoloid origin of Asians.
The high sequence diversity of the Vietnamese and the high frequency of the HincII/H#aI morph 1 haplotypes suggest that Southern China is the center of Asian mtDNA radiation (BLANC et al. 1983)…The high frequencies of the deletion haplotype group D* mtDNAs in Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands, and the New World implies that the migrants carrying this marker were descendant from a single founder population. ~ The Genetics Society of America*
Their painstaking research and gene sequencing revealed an astonishing truth: “The data provide evidence that the Vietnamese are the most diverse and, hence, the oldest population.“* This means (drum roll please), the history that my people related to us, carried on the whispered teachings for lack of written evidence, about our huge ancient Việt Empire, was true all along.
Now we go to Archaeology. Books can be burned and historians can be buried alive to suppress truth and history, but vast amounts of ancient artifacts lying undisturbed under layers of dirt thousands of years down cannot be destroyed so easily. With the recovery of the artifacts also come the recovery of my people’s ancient past.
All that needs to be done is:
- Locate ancient bones and other things
- Date them
- Record their positions geologically
That’s it. The truth will pop out once the ancient artifacts have been found.
The date and the location is very important because before 111 BC, the region below Yangtze river, from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the eastern edge of Burma, was all Vietnamese territory. The map below shows where the Vietnamese regions are and what they were called.
This map does not show Taiwan, although the migration patterns show that my ancient ancestors had traveled upwards towards that island in at least three successive waves. The first wave came in 4,000 BC from the area near Hoa Binh (in present-day North Vietnam). Stone tools and genetic material from bone fragments match those found from both sites. The second wave came from Bac Son area (also in present-day North Vietnam) and also showed matching tools, axes, genetics, etc. The third wave was the most diverse, coming from Central Asia (Java and Malaysia). This last wave settled along the coastal area of central Vietnam and make up present day Champa people (more on this migration pattern in a later posting).
The map shows how ancient Bách Việt (百越 / 百粵) looked like in ancient times. The term Bách Việt means một trăm bộ lạc Việt or 100 Việt Tribes, which goes back to the ancient tale of Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ, and their 100 children born from one egg sac with 100 eggs. Although the mythology sounds like a children’s fairy tale, it is the scientific study of genetics which determine the geographical spread of the Việt people in that area and not someone’s fanciful imagination about a supposed glorious past which may or may not have existed.
Anything found within that region that dates back before 111 BC is Vietnamese origin because that was where Vietnamese people lived for thousands of years prior to 111 BC. Yes, it is now Chinese territory and anything that happened after 111 BC can arguably be claimed by the Chinese, but that does not negate the fact that Việt people lived in that region prior to being taken over by the Han Chinese. This means that any ancient artifacts must be correctly attributed to the Vietnamese and not to the Han Chinese.
Since I cannot go into detail of all the various artifacts that have a Vietnamese origin due to the scope of this small posting, I am going to focus on ceramics for now. I will try to detail other archaeological findings in future postings.
According to LADIR Dynamics, Interactions and Reactivity Laboratory at the University of Paris 6, ancient ceramic pieces date back to well over 4000 BC (that’s more than 6,000 years ago). In their analysis, proto-porcelain and celadon ware came out of Southeast Asia, where the Việt people were living at the time.
The most ancient ceramic pieces (< 4000 B.C.) were found in Taiwan, in the Philippines and in Vietnam. The first Vietnamese ceramic potteries date back to the Hung period (700 BC). Han-Vietnamese pieces range from brown-red to beige-yellow, from gray to white, and their style is very simple, in the Buddhist tradition. Celadon stoneware appeared with political independence, under the Ly (1009-1225) and Trân (1225-1400) dynasties and became very popular in China.
There is also written evidence of this still surviving in Mongolia from a request made by Kublai Khan:
Kubilai Khan, the Mongolian emperor, asked that “white porcelain bowls” be included in the tribute owed to him by a Vietnamese prince. Ly and Trân monochrome ceramics are covered with three types of enamel (ivory, brown, and jade color); they include large jars, bowls, plates, cups, vases, and can be decorated with leaves, flowers, animals, etc.
The analyses also identified the clay types and materials, which nail the techniques used and the geographic area where the clay was taken from.
The micro-structure of ceramics contains a great deal of information on the techniques and materials used at the time. Thanks to Raman spectrometry, composition can be analyzed without danger for the object itself. It appears that Vietnamese ceramics have a relatively high proportion of iron oxide, which explains their color, as well as potassium oxide and especially alumina (>30%) and must be fired at very high temperatures. Raman spectrometry can thus show the difference between the modern copies and ancient.
With all this evidence comes the startling realization that my ancestors were a once-mighty empire, spreading far and wide across the face of the Asian continent. We had a long and illustrious past, filled with great heroes and mighty kings.
Our people spread far and wide, migrating to lands far to the north of present-day Vietnam. Our genes—our maternal blood—runs through our brethren to the north (Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese) and to the south (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines).
The painful truth is, we are a fallen empire. We lost our history, our writing, our knowledge, our blood ties to our lands, we even lost our memories of that once-mighty kingdom. But from the ashes rise a new phoenix of understanding. The truth has set me free from that sad inferiority complex that I used to carry around with me as a child.
I know now that we didn’t copy anybody and we were not wannabes. Our knowledge and our wisdom has been incorporated into the Han Chinese way of life, our language and customs, subverted and assimilated until we, the Vietnamese children, could not even recognize it for what it was, as having once belonged to us. But in my arteries and my veins runs ancient blood from a great and glorious empire.
Even if I am the only one who realizes this, at least while I am still alive, the memories of my ancestors live on.
(Continue to Ancient Viet 2: Sunken Paradise)
- Southeast Asian Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Reveals Genetic Continuity of Ancient Mongoloid Migrations. The Genetics Society of America. 1992.
- Vietnamese Ancient Ceramics: Raman spectrometry used to analyze proto-porcelain and celadon ware. LADIR Dynamics, Interactions and Reactivity Laboratory. 2000.
7 thoughts on “Ancient Việt 01: Cradle of Asian Civilization”
Most of the Southern Han Chinese are in fact a hybrid or fully Viet/Yueh people. The blood was never lost as most Southern Han Chinese can still feel some kind of connection to Vietnam, The DNA test don’t lie. The north Vietnamnese are not that different from Southern Han Chinese, I can hardly diffe
the thing is that the gene that was used as data for the genetic analysis above is our current people gene right? and in nearly 1000 years (you must admit that this is a really long period of time which is able to change anything) being under the control of Chinese empire, with the spread of people from the North, Vietnamese people was a hybrid of the original one and the Northen one. I’m a Vietnamese as well but that’s the truth. I’m not sure how many percent of our gene is truly passed from our ancestor – Giao Chỉ
At this point in the biological timeline, what’s left to be identified is the culture. If you can trace the cultural differences, you will be able to identify the Vietnamese from the Chinese.
I think Chinese cultural started from Vietnamese Cultural, why i guess that ?! Because it’s almost rice water cultural and Vietnam is cradle of rice water cultural, not China
Excellent article. Thank you. May I use it on my history website? The thing about Viet’s history being erased,,,,, A recent example, was the Royal shipbuilding yard at Gia Dinh (Ho Chi Minh City). We hear nothing of it now. All the stories and photos are of Ba Son ship factory built by the French. It was an excellent factory because the French built it …. apparently. Nothing is ever mentioned about it being built on the highly successful, and large Royal shipbuilding factory. The second American merchant captain to visit Gia Dinh logged that the Royal shipyard was equivalent to any shipyard in Europe, the timber was better and the craftsmen were the best. And now the Royal shipbuilding yard is to be buried under riverside apartments and 7 elevens.
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Thank you for your comment. Yes, please use what you can. I will be following up on this subject with another posting since new genetic information has popped up in 2019. All the best
Can you please cite your sources? I’m very interested in this topic and would love to read in depth. Thank you for a great read!