Spirit Cave (Thailand)

Spirit Cave (Thai: ถ้ำผีแมน, Tham Phii Man) is an archaeological site in Pang Mapha district, Mae Hong Son Province, northwestern Thailand. It was occupied 12,000 to 7,000 uncalibrated radiocarbon years ago by prehistoric humans of the Hoabinhian culture.

Spirit Cave
Location in Thailand
Alternative nameTham Phii Man
LocationPang Mapha district, Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand
Altitude650 m (2,133 ft)
PeriodsUpper Paleolithic, Neolithic
Site notes
ArchaeologistsChester Gorman
Mae Hong Son Province, Pang Mapha district in red
Map of the Salween watershed


The site is situated at an elevation of 650 m (2,130 ft) above sea level on a hillside overlooking a small stream. It was excavated in the mid-1960s by Chester Gorman. The Salween River, one of Southeast Asia's longest rivers, flows less than 50 km (31 mi) to the north. Two other significant nearby sites are the Banyan Valley Cave and the Steep Cliff Cave.


Human presence at the site is documented from the Upper Paleolithic to the early Neolithic, but the primary occupation layers represent Hoabinhian hunter-gatherers.[1] Radiocarbon dating of organic resin on some pottery sherds returned Late Neolithic-Bronze ages, at odds with Gorman's claims for the Palaeolithic age of the deposit.[2] Radiocarbon dating of four freshwater crab (Indochinamon sp.) dactyls from Spirit Cave showed that they all date to the Early Holocene, consistent with Gorman's claims of occupation during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition.[3]

Plant domestication

Gorman [4] claims that the Spirit Cave included remains of Prunus (almond), Terminalia, Areca (betel), Vicia (broadbean) or Phaseolus, Pisum (pea) or Raphia lagenaria (bottle gourd), Trapa (Chinese water chestnut), Piper (pepper), Madhuca (butternut), Canarium, Aleurites (candle nut), and Cucumis (a cucumber type) in layers dating to around 9,800 to 8,500 years BCE. None of the recovered specimens differed from their wild phenotypes. He suggested that these may have been used as foods, condiments, stimulants, for lighting and that the leguminous plants in particular "point to a very early use of domesticated plants".[5] He later wrote [6] that "Whether they are definitely early cultigens remains to be established... What is important, and what we can say definitely, is that the remains indicate the early, quite sophisticated use of particular species which are still culturally important in Southeast Asia".

In 1972 W.G. Solheim, as the director of the project of which Spirit Cave was part, published an article in Scientific American discussing the finds from Spirit Cave. While Solheim noted that the specimens may "merely be wild species gathered from the surrounding countryside", he claimed that the inhabitants at Spirit Cave had "an advanced knowledge of horticulture". Solheim's chronological chart suggests that "incipient agriculture" began about 20,000 years BCE in Southeast Asia. He also suggests that ceramic technology was invented at 13,000 years BCE although Spirit Cave does not have ceramics evident until after 6,800 years BCE.[7]

Although Solheim concludes that his reconstruction is "largely hypothetical", his overstatement of the results of Gorman's excavation has led to inflated claims of Hoabinhian agriculture. These claims have detracted from the significance of Spirit Cave as a site with well-preserved evidence of human subsistence and palaeoenvironmental conditions during the Hoabinhian.


Gorman discussed cultural levels with respect to lithic artifacts and identified two layers at Spirit Cave.[6] Course-grained quartzite was the most abundant stone found in both layers. The remains included large unifacially worked pebble cores aka sumatraliths, grinding stones, and retouched/utilized flakes.[6] Cultural level two consisted of new types of artifacts including flaked and polished quadrangular adzes and small ground/polished slate knives.[6] He used the findings at Spirit Cave to argue the notion that the Hoabinhian culture was a techno-complex due to a response to similar ecological adaptations.[6]

See also


  1. Conrad, Cyler; Higham, Charles; Eda, Masaki; Marwick, Ben (14 October 2016). "Palaeoecology and Forager Subsistence Strategies during the Pleistocene – Holocene Transition: A Reinvestigation of the Zooarchaeological Assemblage from Spirit Cave, Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand". Asian Perspectives. 55 (1): 2–27. ISSN 1535-8283.
  2. Lampert, C.D.; Glover, I.C.; Hedges, R.E.M.; Heron, C.P.; Higham, T.F.G.; Stern, B.; Shoocongdej, R.; Thompson, G.B. (March 2003). "Dating resin coating on pottery: the Spirit Cave early ceramic dates revised". Antiquity. 77 (295): 126–133. doi:10.1017/S0003598X0006141X.
  3. Conrad, Cyler; Shoocongdej, Rasmi; Marwick, Ben; White, Joyce C.; Thongcharoenchaikit, Cholawit; Higham, Charles; Feathers, James K.; Tumpeesuwan, Sakboworn; Castillo, Cristina C.; Fuller, Dorian Q.; Jones, Emily Lena (8 October 2021). "Re-evaluating Pleistocene–Holocene occupation of cave sites in north-west Thailand: new radiocarbon and luminescence dating". Antiquity: 1–18. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.44.
  4. Gorman C. (1971) The Hoabinhian and After: Subsistence Patterns in Southeast Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Recent Periods. World Archaeology 2: 300-20
  5. Gorman C. (1969) Hoabinhian: A pebble tool complex with early plant associations in Southeast Asia. Science 163: 671-3
  6. Gorman C. (1971) The Hoabinhian and After: Subsistence Patterns in Southeast Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Recent Periods. World Archaeology 2: 311
  7. Solheim, W.G. (1972) An earlier agricultural revolution. Scientific American 226: 34-41


  • Charles Higham (2002). Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia. River Books. pp. 46–49.

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.