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History, Early History

ancient city of Angkor, Theravada Buddhism, archaeological discoveries, Thai people, border region

It is natural to think that the history of Thailand is the history of the Thai people, but in fact it is much more than that. The Thai were relative latecomers on the scene, becoming the majority of the regionís population only 700 or 800 years ago. The lands now included in Thailand have been inhabited for 4,000 or 5,000 years. Even long ago, people of the region were adept at adopting new technologies and absorbing new populations.

The society and economy of Thailandís earliest inhabitants, in prehistoric times, went through a long evolution. As is demonstrated by archaeological discoveries at Ban Chiang and other sites, these early peoples were among the first in the world to make and use bronze tools and weapons, to which they later added iron. They domesticated pigs and chickens, cultivated rice and caught fish, and produced fabrics from bark and fibrous plants. They lived in small villages scattered over a broad area.

In early historic times, the peoples living in what is now central Thailand probably spoke Mon-Khmer languages (a group of languages of the Austro-Asiatic language family) and were absorbed into a number of local states that developed in the area. Especially between the 6th and 9th centuries, the kingdom of Dvaravati dominated the central plain of the Chao Phraya river system and the Khorat Plateau to its east. The most enduring legacy of this period was Theravada Buddhism, which was strongly influenced by the Buddhism of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). Many of the regionís inhabitants embraced Buddhism. Many also were exposed regularly to foreign trade by traders passing through the region when traveling between China and India by sea.

Between the 9th and 13th centuries the central plain and the Khorat Plateau were incorporated into the Khmer (Cambodian) kingdom of Angkor, centered on the ancient city of Angkor in what is now western Cambodia. This added a Khmer element to a population that already included indigenous and Dvaravati elements.

The Thai people began to incorporate themselves into this mixture of peoples from the 10th or 11th century onwards. The Thai had been moving steadily southwestward from the border region between Vietnam and China, usually occupying the mountainous areas between major lowland states. They may have founded tiny upland principalities in the upper Mekong River region near present-day Chiang Saen as early as the 7th century. However, only in the early 13th century did they suddenly burst upon the scene in the Dvaravati and Angkor domains.

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