Ancient Drowned Cities of the World

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I love the mysteries of long-lost and hidden civilizations.  They fascinate me to no end and leave my imagination bursting with a million stories that want to be told about the people and places that used to be above water.

Many submerged cities are quite young.  They are fascinating because we know so much about them and yet, they still retain their mysterious allure.  Some, however, are very old—so old that no one knows how old they are.  When traditional dating methods are used, the dates that do come back put those places at a period of time that archaeologists have previously determined that there is no civilization advanced enough to have developed technologies that could create such magnificent structures.

This brings about a couple of interesting questions.  If, as they say, carbon dating is suspect and unreliable as a dating method, why would it only be ‘unreliable’ and ‘suspect’ for certain findings and absolutely reliable for other findings?  Why would all these sunken places also show that they were above water before the end of the last ice age?  Could it be that continent-wide drownings have occurred all over the globe at about the same time?  Might it be that the same catastrophic event(s) caused the sudden ending of the ice age, to herald in the new interglacial age?

In any case, it is a mystery, and I for one, love mysteries.  Since we have only managed to study only about 2 or 3 percent of the Earth’s oceans, I am confident that as knowledge is brought forth, we will be able to find more mysteries to contemplate.   Here then, are a few of my favorite mysterious drowned cities:

Yonaguni-Jima, Japan


Yonaguni is a sunken structure that was found by a diver back in 1985.  Its placement on the map shows that it used to be part of a huge coastal area that joined Japan and Taiwan to the main Asian continental plate.  It was above water during the period of time that Sundaland was above water and would have been prime coastal real estate for the population that was living there.

Once the third event of polar cap melting, circa 7,000 years ago, all of this land was submerged and Yonaguni, along with the inhabitants of this Asian coastal area was drowned.  This means that the time frame of the last Global Glacial Maximum (the time when maximum amount of submerged land would still be above water) would have occurred as early as 23,000 BC or as late as 19,000 BC.  It was then that global sea levels would have been at the lowest, and the more accurate dating for Yonaguni would be within this time frame.

Ever since the rediscovery of Yonaguni, there has been intense controversy.  Some geologists and archaeologists say that it is man-made because they found, not only hewn marks on the stones but also the tools that created those marks, along with various carvings which have been recovered from the site.

Looking at the carvings that came out of Yonaguni, my untrained eyes say that they look like the work of humans.  Add to that the hewn marks found on the stones and I would have to concede that human hands shaped those stone steps.


yonagunifaceThe wide terraces, ramps, and large steps have a regularity to them and the straight and intersecting lines indicate non-natural formations.

Most striking is the large head which seems to have hair and a head dress carved to its head.  There are also numerous round holes carved into the rock which suggests areas where poles can be fitted into.

Dr Schoch, an American geologist who made the dive to inspect Yonaguni in 1999 states that “We should also consider the possibility that the Yonaguni Monument is fundamentally a natural structure that was utilized, enhanced, and modified by humans in ancient times.”

If, as Dr. Schoch speculates, the site dates to approximately 23,000 BC or as late as 19,000 BC, and there were human hands that were doing the enhancing and modifying of this natural structure, the question must be asked.  Who were these humans?

Lord Krishna’s City, Dvārakā, India

indiacity2I really love old tales about ancient places that the gods have built because it evokes a time when magic and other incredible events occurred—a time when people still believed in the mystical and the magical.  Dvārakā was such a mythical city that a mythical god named Lord Krishna was supposed to have built off the coast of India some 9,000 years ago.

Unlike most other sunken cities and sites, Lord Krishna’s city had been recorded in great detail, much like Homer’s lost city of Atlantis.  This history, written into the Mahabaharata was thought to be myth because, of course, holy scriptures are only made-up stories of gods and men and can’t possibly contain any factual truths.  Flying crafts with the ability to shoot at each other from the skies?  Come on.  Gods who can destroy three cities with a single atomic blast each?  What utter nonsense.

gulf of cambay

Well, at least some of the ‘nonsense’ has proven to be true and Dvārakā has been found—unlike Atlantis, which is still missing.

Back in 2000, a team of oceanographers from India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology was conducting a survey of pollution off the Gulf of Cambay when their side-scan sonars sent back images of huge geometric structures at a depth of 120 feet.

In clear water, this is not that far down, but either the water is so murky and polluted, it was difficult to get clear pictures of the place OR something has been suppressed due to sensitivity of the material.  Whatever the case may be, it is difficult to find any clear images of the city at all, even twelve years after the initial finding of the site.


Here is an account from the Mahabharata about Lord Krishna’s drowned city of Dvārakā:

…imposed on it by nature. The sea rushed into the city. It coursed through the streets of the beautiful city. The sea covered up everything in the city. I saw the beautiful buildings becoming submerged one by one. In a matter of a few moments it was all over. The sea had now become as placid as a lake. There was no trace of the city. Dwaraka was just a name; just a memory.

The Vishnu Purana also mentions the submersion of Dvārakā, stating:

On the same day that Krishna departed from the earth the powerful dark-bodied Kali Age descended. The oceans rose and submerged the whole of Dwarka.

This site is inextricably linked to Yonaguni because both sites have been carbon-dated it at roughly the same time period, circa 9500 to 7500 years ago which is roughly around 7500 to 5500 years BC.  Unfortunately, due to the methods of recovery (dredging) of some of the artifacts, the dating of the site remains contentious.  The answer to that is obvious.  More study and research needs to be carried out on this and other submerged areas of possible submerged civilizations.

There has not been any recent archaeological examination of the site since 2002 so we will not be able to ascertain for certain what, if any, truth can be extracted from this site.  The only way to prove the existence of Lord Krishna’s city is to go back and study it more carefully, along with archaeologists who are trained at the recovery and dating process.  I am sure that in a country of billions, we can find a group of archaeologists who would want to ascertain whether or not this is the actual city of Lord Krishna or just some natural land ridges made by ocean currents and whatnot.

Cuban Sunken City


Around the same time that the Indian Oceanographers stumbled upon Lord Krishna’s sunken city, another discovery was being made off the coast of Cuba.  This story has even less information and less research than the previous two sunken cities due to the sensitive nature of its location.  However, this is the extent of what little data was able to surface from the findings back in 2000.

cuba2An oceanographer and engineer Paulina Zelitsky, and her husband, Paul Weinzweig, head of Advanced Digital Communications International, Inc, stumbled upon a structure while doing some deep ocean bottom surveys in and around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

What they found were megalithic structures made from polished granite, a stone that could not possibly be of local origin because that entire ocean floor is made up of fractured limestone.

The closest source of granite would have been at the center of Mexico so the source of the granite for these structures are unknown.

In addition to the granite features, the oceanographer was able to recover two rock fragments from within one of the features, one of them a type of volcaniclastic sandstone and the other, a carbonate breccia.  Both rocks are ancient and unrelated to the composition of the granite megaliths. How these rocks reached the area of the megaliths is also not yet understood.


There was ancient writing on these structures, hieroglyphic-like, which scientists are still trying to decipher.  The ancient inscriptions were found carved into the rock surfaces everywhere.  The ample evidence on the ocean floor showed various structures aside from the pyramids.  There were buildings and roads paved with stone; the size of this city was so large that it went from coast to coast.       zelitsky-ovalcross

There were also symbols similar to the American cross, of ovals crossing each other, such as those that can be found in Cuban caves.  These circles are found all over Cuban caves which also depict other circles and whorls.   

Coastal Cuba is not known for being an open area for research and study, but more importantly, this area, so close to the Florida keys, have been extensively studied by the US military since the early 60s.  Nuclear submarines cruising around that area back then had discovered the location of this submerged megalithic city and immediately shut everything down.

That was forty years ago, however, when the world was still mired in a cold war against each other.  Today, the threat of a Cuban offensive is just about nonexistent.  Trade sanctions with Cuba has also somewhat eased and may soon be fairly normalized.  Once that occurs, there is hope that more unrestricted archaeological, geological, and paleontological studies can be carried out to further understand the science behind the anomalies.

At the very least, there should be some type of declassification to further the understanding of ancient civilizations and early human history.  Until then, all we can do is gaze upon these structures and speculate on how wondrous our past must have been and if we will ever return to such a state of advanced understanding.

Ancient ties between Taiwanese and Vietnamese

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I always knew my family’s spoken language was slightly different than what was spoken on the streets.  There were many terminology which didn’t fit in with the Việt vocabulary that I learned in school and on the playground.  For example, my father called his mother, my paternal grandmother, by the word Bu (母) pronounced as in the English word ‘boo’.  I never understood why.  I just thought he was a bit strange.  As I got older, I found out that the Taiwanese word for mother is pronounced Bu, and the Japanese word for mother is (pronounced ‘bow’).  I thought that rather odd since there really isn’t a connection between my Father and a native Taiwanese (or Japanese).  So I decided to dig around myself to find out what’s the deal here.

Before I go too far, let me just lay out the four basic language groups:  Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan, and Austronesian.  I am zeroing in on Austronesian because this is the language root of the Việt people.


Austronesia is further split into four separate groups.  Austronesian, Austroasiatic, Tai-Kadai, and Tibito-Burman (more commonly known as Sino-Tibetan).  My question was, where does Vietnamese fit into these four branches?  Since I am not a linguist, I had to go find out what the linguists of note thought.

Back in 1852, James Logan thought it was Austroasiatic (he called it Môn Anam back then).  In 1905, another linguist named W. Schmidt thought it was Môn Khmer, but then changed his mind and said it had to be part of the the Tai-Kadai grouping.  Then in 1912, Maspéro placed it in with the Tai-Kadai.  But then, in 1952, Andre Haudricourt placed the Vietnamese language back into the Austro-Asiatic group again.

So which is it?  Austroasiatic or Tai-Kadai, and why the mix-up over such a long time (roughly 100 years)?   The answer came in 1975 when a linguist by the name of Paul Benedict decided that the old groupings didn’t work, so he proposed to combine the Tai-Kadai and Austronesian into one grouping called Proto-Austro-Tai (or PAT for short).  This is because Vietnamese didn’t fit in either one, having features found in both.  But that still left the other two groupings Austronesian and Sino-Tibetan.

Upon further review, the various linguists of the day found a single language that combined all four groupings, making it the proto-language of the South-East-Asian and South-Asian world.  They proposed a new name, Austric, to combine all four into one so that the single language would have a placement.  This single language came out of the Hòa Bình culture, which eventually evolved into the Việt culture and encompasses the written Văn Khoa Đẩu (more commonly known as the tadpole script), aka Proto-Việt language.


This tadpole script was found everywhere, all over southeast Asia, in Japan, Taiwan, southern China, even into Thailand and Sumatra.  It was carved on rocks, bones, turtle shells, megalithic stones, you name it.  Once people figured out what it was, it turned up everywhere.  Reading this script is not extremely difficult either…if you know Vietnamese.  Of course, the words are a bit strange, but a decent grasp of old Việt language is really all that one needs to be able to read the ancient phonetic writing on these rocks.

Incidentally… Hòa Bình means Peaceful.  I kinda like that.  



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 Lạc Việt Writing in Guangxi

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I can never leave well enough alone.

Here I am, with my hot Vietnamese milk and coffee, all nice and brewed, going back through my sources to grab a few final pieces to start my novel, and of course, something of a huge magnitude stops me in my tracks.  I find a tiny bit of information which I MUST dig into and take a huge beefy bite out of because to NOT do so would be a travesty!

I could not pass up an article, written on May 26, 2012, which boldly screamed:

The Discovery of the Lạc Việt Writing in Guangxi

I had a choice.  I could set this article aside, forget I saw it, and just start up the first page of the first draft of my newest brain-child.  Or I could postpone the inevitable and follow this thread for as far as it will allow me to follow.  Well, what did you think I’d do?

It all started back in 1923, when an archaeologist named Madelaine Colani who was digging around the northern region of modern-day Vietnam, found two small pottery disks dated back to 8,000 BC with inscriptions of two Chinese words, and Tượng which means Colonel and Citadel (Sĩ is equivalent to the modern-day Bishop and Tượng is equivalent to the Rook).

chess pieces

Now, I recognize these two discs because as a child, I often played Chinese Chess with my father.  Being poor as church mice since we had just emigrated from Vietnam and had no money, our playing pieces were not the nice carved heads of horses and generals of today’s mass-produced chess pieces, they were thick cardboard rounds that my father cut out and wrote with a black marker, the Chinese symbols for the various playing pieces.

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I knew without a doubt, these had to be chess pieces, and since Chinese chess is a very old game, I was not surprised to see them being played way back when.

What surprised me was the date of these pieces.

People—8,000 BC is ten-thousand years ago!  If these pieces were found ten-thousand years ago, that must mean Chinese characters were already around and being used prolifically.  How much further back can we go to find Chinese characters?

I dug some more and voila, I found more fun stuff.  Inscriptions of writing on tortoise shells were found at another archaeological excavation site, Giả Hồ in Hà Nam province dating back to 9,000 BC.  Even further back, there are plenty of pottery pieces unearthed at an archaeologically-led excavation site, Bán Pha 2 in Sơn Tây province, north Vietnam which dates back to 12,000 BC.

The problem is, Chinese characters, Hanzi, was purported to have been invented in 2650 BC by Cangjie, a bureaucrat under the Yellow Emperor.  This means that Chinese had been in use for at least seven thousand years before Cangjie invented it.  How could that possibly be?  The answer had to lie with the people who used the Chinese characters all those years ago.

So I go back and look at the people who played Chinese chess and I try to find the meaning behind this.

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Ancient Chinese historians have written that back around circa 2300 BC, the kingdom of Việt Thường sent to Emperor Yao a one-thousand-year-old tortoise (at the time, it was still living), which carried on its back an inscription in (of all possible languages) Chữ Khoa Đẩu, an ancient Vietnamese language of all things happening from the time Sky and Earth had been born.  Emperor Yao had it copied and named it the Turtle Calendar.

In a previous post regarding the bronze drums of the Đông Sơn culture, which dates back around 2,000 BC, there are characters inscribed on bronze objects of the Đông Sơn people (early Viets) which match those of the chess pieces as well as the Oracle Bone Scripts attributed to the Shang Dynasty around 1,300 BC.  Since the Oracle Bones had only been unearthed in 1899, they could not have possibly been the precursor of the Chinese Hanzi (more about this in future postings).  They could only have been left there by another people who had either migrated through that area or were living there around that time period.

Here is the clincher.  On December 2011, Lí Nhĩ Chân announced that the Society of Research of the Lạc Việt Culture had rediscovered a large number of ideograms which showed the presence of Lạc Việt writing in Guangxi province.


The discovery heralded the fact that ancient Lạc Việt had a writing system in place between 4,000 BC to 6,000 BC.  This was groundbreaking because it meant that this recent discovery of the Lạc Việt writing would, in fact, re-write the history of China’s writing.  This proved that Lạc Việt culture was immensely influential in the development of Chinese Hanzi in the time of ancient China.


So who were the people who invented the Oracle Bones Scripts?  Let’s analyze the script writing from various archaeological findings:

1.  12,000 BC – scripts inscribed on pottery pieces 12,000 BC
2.  9,000 BC – inscriptions on tortoise shells
3.  8,000 BC – the chess pieces
4.  6,000 – 4,000 BC –  inscriptions on stone in Guangxi
5.  2,000 BC – inscriptions on the bronze objects of Đông Sơn
6.  1,400 BC – scripts on Oracle Bones

What we find here is a natural evolutionary flow of the script, from simple to complex.  All writing must have this flow, which shows how the early writing began, how it progressed, and its various incarnations before it becomes the final system of writing that is most current.  Here is how it breaks down.

1.  The pottery pieces which showed up in 12,000 BC contained very basic proto-Lạc Việt writing.

2.  Three-thousand years later, there were more fully-developed inscriptions on tortoise shells.

3.  Another thousand years go by and these people were already playing with chess pieces using this writing system.

4.  Two-thousand years later and a more advanced writing system shows up on stone pieces in Guangxi.

5.  Two-thousand years after that and the writing shows up on the bronze drums of Đông Sơn.

5.  The final development of the  Lạc Việt writing system showed up on the Oracle Bone Scripts.

And this is the result:

moc word

The figure to the left is the Chữ Khoa Đẩu (Tadpole Script) word Mộc, which means wood.  The character on the right is the word wood written in modern-day Chinese Hanzi.

Nobody is disclaiming that there is a connection between the Oracle Bone Scripts and modern Hanzi.  There is an obvious link between the two.  What is being discussed, and debated, and hurled back and forth are these two worn and tired arguments:

1.  Việt people did not have a writing prior to circa 1200.  After this time, the first writing of the Việt people was Chữ Nôm, which is a writing system with borrowed Hanzi and newly made Chinese characters to represent Việt sounds not found in spoken Mandarin.

2.  The people who lived in southern China in ancient times were not Việt people but an amalgamation of various cultures.

I have presented, in this post, archaeological information, discovered as recently as 2011, to show that we Việt actually had a writing system.  I also presented in my previous post, Ancient Việt:  Cradle of Asian Civilization, archaeogenetic proof that the genetic blood that ran in the ancient Việt still also runs in modern-day Việt.

In my next post, I will go into the thought-experiment about the link between Chinese Hanzi and Vietnamese Chữ Nôm.  This is going to be a wild one, but I will speak the truth, even if my voice shakes. ~ anon.

The Discovery of the Lạc Việt Writing in Guangxi.  Việt Tử. May 26, 2012.

Research on Chinese Characters and Chinese Vietnamese languages.  Vũ Thế Ngọc. 1989

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.

Đông Sơn Drums


Yep, that’s me!  I rock at drums!!!

…OK, so I’m not a drummer girl.  Actually, if Pete, the drummer of my band heard me calling myself a Drummer Girl, he’d laugh is head off.  I suck at timing.

No.  I really suck at timing.  I don’t care, though.  I like to bang on drums and congas and all my other percussion instruments.  I may not be talented, but I am enthusiastic.

My people are enthusiastic drummers as well.  We have been creating beautiful bronze drums for thousands of years (among other things).  What we have behind glass and on stands in the museums don’t even come close to what we did create back in those days.  It has all been ransacked and taken so not much is still left to be seen, I know that.  I know that we don’t have much in terms of archaeological artifacts to share with the world, that would be recognized as purely Vietnamese.

I get that.

I get that, compared to other cultures, we barely have anything that would be considered of historical significance to anyone any more.

song da 2This makes the little that we have even more astonishing in its singularity.

How can a civilization create something so profoundly meaningful, so artistically precise, so technologically advanced for the time, and yet have absolutely no other found artifacts that would suggest a rich cultural heritage?

We have no evidence of other types of archaeological finds, no huge monuments, no ancient temples, no enormous pyramids or megalithic stone temples.

drum mapAll we have are these old drums and some old myths and legends.

Having said that, we have quite a few of these old drums.  To date, there are approximately around 960 bronze drums that have been found in Vietnam alone, and of those drums, 540 belong to the “Đông Sơn” classfication.

I wrote about it in one of my previous posts, Ancient Việt Dynasty, where I outlined the usage of the drum as a calendar.  In this post, I will go into detail about the various types of drums that were found all over Vietnam as well as the symbolism and the clues that tie the drums to the I Ching.

There are several types of drums.  They are differentiated by the designs on the drum face as well as by size.  They are:  Ngọc Lũ Drum, Hoàng Hạ Drum, Cổ Loa Drum, Chợ Bờ Drum, Sông Đà Drum, and Quảng Xương Drum.  These drums are part of a panoply of Trống đồng Đông Sơn (Dong Son drums) that date back to the Hùng Vương kings circa 2800 BC.

Ngọc Lũ Drum

The Ngọc Lũ Drum is perhaps the finest example of my people’s bronze drums.  Its quality of construction is superb, indicating a high level of bronze-work thousands of years ago.  It has a circumference of 79 cm and is 63 cm tall.  For all non-metric folks, that’s a little over 2 feet tall and about 2 feet 7 inches in circumference.  It is also covered in a patina of dull greenish bronze, indicative of its great age.


This drum was discovered  in Hà Nam province back in 1893 by two men, Nguyễn Văn Y and Nguyễn Văn Túc, along with a team of their workers who were digging a ditch for the farming community.  Spring planting means ditch digging.  This allowed for irrigation water to flow in the direction that it needed to go so that it could be equally distributed amongst the rows of newly planted seedlings.  It was back-breaking labor but it was honest work, and one that they were used to.

One minute, they were digging in a patch of soil, and the next minute, they struck pay dirt.   Unbeknownst to them, what they found was worth far more than its weight in gold.  What they found was The Ngọc Lũ Drum.   

Ngoc Lu bronze drum combo

The Ngọc Lũ Drum, even dirt-logged and oxidized as it had been, was a thing of obvious beauty and value, and the men who rediscovered it knew that their ancestors had hidden it underground to protect it from being systematically destroyed.  The Great Bronze Melting during the occupation of Ma is very well-documented.  The men knew that this was a part of their ancient heritage, kept safe for them, under the ground where it could be hidden from plunderers and the ravages of time.

Since they wanted to share this historic heritage with their community, they took the drum to their community center which was located in Ngọc Lũ, a tiny village in Hà Nam province.  Their intent was for the drum to be played during the great ceremonies of various important dates and events, as it had been for thousands of years in the past.  This was what it was originally created for, and what it should have been used for.  This was its primary function for about seven or eight years while it was still in the care of the Ngọc Lũ community.

Unfortunately, a visiting French dignitary came one fateful day, saw the drum, and immediately called the province officials to report on what he thought was an atrocity.  In his mind, the people were beating upon a priceless artifact of antiquity, something that needed to be protected inside a museum, not left unattended inside a village community center to be regularly beaten upon.  This French dignitary recognized the value of the artifact and wanted the drum at any cost.  He managed to convince the officials of Hà Nam province that it had to be taken out of the small village community, but to come and seize it by force was not in the best interest of anybody, so they created a bidding war.  Whoever bid the highest for the item would own the piece outright.

The villagers did not want to lose their drum.  This was a valuable heritage that their ancestors had tried to protect and to pass down to their progeny.  It would be a horrible crime to lose it yet a second time.

But they had no chance and no say-so in the matter.  They were a poor community, and unable to come up with the large amount of money that was required to keep the drum, they lost possession of it to the officials in Hà Nam province on November 11, 1902.

Once it was in the hands of the province officials, an entity named Viện Viễn Đông Bác cổ or The French Institute of Eastern Archaeology (École française d’Extrême-Orient) purchased it from them for $550 đồng (that’s 3 cents in USA currency today).  It basically passed into the hands of the French people, and there it remained until 1954 when the Geneva Convention occurred.  To this day, the French still possess an inordinate amount of ancient Vietnamese cultural heritage items that had been taken and then transported back to France, but that’s another post for another day.

The Ngọc Lũ Drum is now on display at the Museum of Vietnamese History in Hà Nội.  I have been to Hà Nội twice, but have never managed to go there.  It is one of those strange sad situations that occur when one finds oneself in such a fascinating place.  There is far, far more places and things to see than one has time scheduled into the day to see it.

Hoàng Hạ Drum

The Hoàng Hạ Drum is slightly different from the Ngọc Lũ Drum in that there are 16 points to the center star instead of 14 points.  There are also slightly different patterns, designs, and animals on the drum face, but its purpose and design came from the same manufacturing process of the Đông Sơn community of the ancient Vietnamese.

This drum was discovered on July 13, 1937 by a group of workers digging trenches to divert water from the northern province down towards Hà Đông, which is now current-day Hà Nội.  Since trenches are shallow, it was quite a lucky find due to the fact that the drum was barely 3 feet underground.

It was obviously meant to have been a quick and temporary hiding spot, placed there to be retrieved at a point in time when it would be deemed safe to do so.  Unfortunately, whoever placed it there out of harm’s way must have quickly met up with misfortune and had gone to the grave before they were able to reveal its location.


Not much more is known about its history, but it is also now on display at the Museum of Vietnamese History in Hà Nội.

Cổ Loa Drum


The Cổ Loa Drum is an example of what a Đông Sơn drum looks like when it has not been protected underneath the ground.  After years of exposure to the elements and the ravages, it has suffered a fair amount of damage.  Yet, the images on the drum top is still visible and unique enough for it to be classified as a different style of Đông Sơn drum.


Sông Đà Drum

The Sông Đà Drum is another 14 point star drum.  It is slightly different from the other drums, mainly of its depictions of the various birds and animals on its face.


There are brackets at the neck area of the drum, and its shape is more proportionately hourglass than some of the other drums.

song da 3

The drum face is exquisite in craftsmanship.  Its various depictions of animals and people, cryptic and containing various facets of hidden symbolism which we have yet to fully uncover.

song da 2


Chợ Bờ Drum

Quite unlike the other drums, this type of drum comprises of only two parts (instead of three) and also has frogs perching on the rim of the drum head.  There can be four to six frogs, and the images can vary from drum to drum.



Chợ Bờ drum


This is a closeup of one of the frogs that were fused to the top of the Chợ Bờ drum. This type of drum was developed later than previous bronze drums, roughly between the 4th century B.C. and 1stcentury A.D.

Since frogs emerge during rain, and rain usually leads to good harvests, this drum was most probably used to predict times of planting as well as to request opportunistic rainfall.

When the drums are beaten during festivals and the various holidays, the sound is said to resemble the rumbling sounds of thunder.  With the frogs present, it is a plea for ask for rainfall, which brings with it, a bountiful harvest.

Speake-Marin Đông Sơn Collection Watch

clock face dongson drum

As I was doing research into the wonderful world of the ancient drums, I happened across a website of a Swiss watchmaker, Speake Marin, who created a commissioned piece just last year, that featured the Đông Sơn drum face on its watch face.

I searched all over the internet for a website that would feature the watch for sale, but sadly, since there are only 18 of these watches created, I do not think it is even available for purchase at any price.

Whatever.  It still looks awesome.