Sunken Paradise

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Much of the ancient world inherited by our ancestors now lies under water after melting ice caps flooded vast areas at the end of the last Ice Age. New advances in geology and marine technology mean that the great archaeological finds of this coming century will more than likely be found under the oceans. It now looks likely that large populations of early humans were obliterated from the historical record by this catastrophe over 10,000 years ago.  ~  Graham Hancock

(…continue from Ancient Viet: Cradle of Asian Civilization)


In order to understand ancient Vietnam and how it fits in with world history, I have to take a look back farther in time than I have been.  In fact, I have to go back to the time when we were all starting to move out of Africa.  Unfortunately, this means I have to talk about an area of the world that is no longer even on the map and for the longest time, was thought to be mythical.

I am standing here, looking at the shadowy depths of an area called Sundaland which, sixty-thousand years ago, was once a rich, fertile area, densely populated by a people with a high level of civilization.

sundalandMap taken from

OK, so I know some folks may think I am talking about a mythical place similar to an often-talked-about-but-never-found Atlantis, but there is real geological evidence that it does indeed exists.

Geological Evidence for Sundaland

According to geologist Peter Cattermole, Sundaland [1] was HUGE.  It was the largest area on Earth that underwent a submersion following three waves of global flooding following glacier ice melts at the end of the last ice age.  This means that, soon after our ancestors migrated out of Africa (and archaeogenetics show that it was in one big wave of migration, not two smaller waves), one of the first places we went to was Sundaland.  The weather was nice, the food was plentiful, we proliferated and grew in numbers.  We lived and worked and played in that area for at least 50,000 years—plenty enough time for a fairly advanced level of civilization to occur.  [2]

It was Eden…until global warming occurred (sound familiar?), at which time, we got flooded.

It didn’t happen all at once.  When the first signs of flooding appeared, around 20,000 years ago, my ancestors were slowly being forced to migrate westward.  Eventually, the southeast Asian subcontinent was hit HARD by three great sea level surges which sank the continent in huge swaths of land.  The first surge occurred in 12,000 BC, the second surge hit at around 9,500 BC, and the final surge hit around 5,600 BC.  Three times, they were forced to move westward and northward, onto drier shores of what is now present-day Northern Vietnam and Southern China.  From there, the population recovered and began spreading out all over the area. [6]

This happened as early as twenty-thousand years ago, when our ancestors found their homes becoming water-logged and had to move further inland.  However, according to new findings back in August of 2012, people were not just living in the area of Sundaland, they were also spread out into areas that were much further inland and further north. [3]

Here, I hit upon another gnarly situaiton:  How to prove human movement.  Since that was not within the scope of geology, I had to consult modern anthropology.


Anthropological Evidence for Human Presence

According to Dr. Laura Shackelford, anthropology professor at University of Illinois, in the summer of 2012, a skull found in Northern Laos that was dated circa 63,000 years old, indicates that there was also human presence there, which corroborated with the latest genetic studies that indicate that modern humans occupied that part of the world at least 60,000 years ago. “This is the first fossil evidence that supports the genetic data,” she said. [4]

Compelling evidence also shows that we went as far west as Sumeria, where folks started setting up a new civilization. [8]  That is how archaeologists go from seeing nothing—no sign of human civilization, to all of a sudden, a people who called themselves Sumerians springing up out of nowhere, with a completely developed culture and civilization.  Even though there was no evidence whatsoever of where they originated and how they came to acquire their knowledge, the middle-east region became known as the cradle of civilization because that was the farthest scientists had been able to pull back the veil of ancient past. [7]

But now, with better technology, better methods of research, we are starting to discover deeper and deeper levels of humanity’s existence.  With archaeogenetics and the ability to do genome sequencing of ancient biological evidence, all of a sudden, we had the tools and knowledge to reach back even farther—thousands and thousands of years farther.

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Archaeogenetical Evidence for Human Movement and Expansion

Genetics indicate a radical and completely fascinating story.  The real cradle of civilization seems to be pointing towards the sunken Sundaland continental shelf, with the oldest of that population, genetically-speaking, being the Vietnamese population. [5][7]

According to the sequencing of human mitochondrial DNA from 153 independent samples which was done in 1992 by a team of scientists working with the Genetics Society of America, “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.” [8]  This means that my Vietnamese ancestors spread out EVERYWHERE.

Using this initial finding as the leaping board, through a massive collaborative effort of the Human Genome Organisation in 2009, scientists from 40 institutes were able to gather 2,000 samples from 73 different populations covering almost the entire spectrum of linguistic and ethnic diversity and genotyped for approximately 50,000 single nucleotide polymorphic markers.

This is some of what they were able to assertain:  [9]

1.  East and Southeast Asians share a common origin.

2.  East Asians mainly originated from South East Asian populations with minor contributions from Central-South Asian groups.

3.  A common ancestor of the Negrito and non-Negrito populations of Asia entered into the continent. This supports the hypothesis of one wave of migration into Asia as opposed to two waves of migrations from Africa.

4.  The Taiwan aborigines are derived from Austronesian populations. This stands in contrast to the suggestion that this island served as the ancestral “homeland” for Austronesian speaking populations throughout the Indo-Pacific.

5.  Genetic ancestry is highly correlated with linguistic affiliations as well as geography.

This is powerful information.  It sent a shock wave rippling through the communities around the world when the information was initially released.  As more and more evidence began to surface, the idea of a Sundaland Cradle of Civilization became more and more widespread until it began to turn the tide and is now in the process of rewriting the history of ancient mankind.

By no means am I saying that this is all there is to know about our ancient past.  I will always be on the lookout for any new information that comes to light in regards to ancient people of Sundaland and elsewhere.  Indeed, much of what has just been found all around the Sundaland area between 1999 and early 2013 (barely 14 years of research) continues to support the evidence of what has been indicated by genetic sequencing.  However, this is plenty enough evidence for me to confidently move onto my next leg of the journey, that of rediscovering the history of my people.

1.  Peter Cattermole.

2.  Dr. Martin Richards. “Climate Change and Postglacial Human Dispersals in Southeast Asia”. Oxford Journals. Retrieved 2010.

3.  Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia.  Oppenheimer, Stephen.  July 1999.

4.  An Anatomically Modern Human in Southeast Asia (Laos).  Dr. Laura Shackelford.  August 2012.

5.  Mapping Human Genetic Diversity in Asia.  Science Magazine.  December 2009.

6.  Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization.  Graham Hancock.  October 2003.

7.  Genetic ‘map’ of Asia’s Diversity.   BBC News. Dec. 2009.

8.  Southeast Asian Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Reveals Genetic Continuity of Ancient Mongoloid Migrations. The Genetics Society of America.  1992.

9.  HUGO (Human Genome Organisation).  Dr. Vikrant Kumar.  December 2009.

Ancient Việt: Cradle of Asian Civilization

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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.

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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:

1)  Locate ancient bones and other things
2)  Date them
3)  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.
workingWith 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.