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History of Phuket , Thailand

Phuket History - Ancient Times Phuket History - Monument of the Two Heroins. Phuket History - Rubber Plant. Thai antiques

Phuket Ancient Times

Southern Thailand has been inhabited since the early days of mankind by ancient tribes who settled and or adapted their lifestyles to the local environment. Who arrived first and who pushed out or assimilated who has kept archaeologists occupied for a long time, and promises to keep them working for a good while to come.

Phuket History - Ancient TimesRemains of domesticated rice found at Spirit Cave, Thailand, may date from before 6800 BC. The development of bronze (copper and tin) for use in weapons and tools generally marks the time when archaeologists consider a society to have left the Stone Age. Discoveries in Thailand since 1960 have upset traditional theories concerning the origins of copper and bronze technologies. It had been thought that the use of bronze had originated in the Middle East, but discoveries near Ban Chiang, Thailand indicate that bronze technology was known there as early as 4500 BC. This preceded the working of bronze in the Middle East by several hundred years. Greece by comparison did not enter the Bronze Age until 3000 BC and China not until 1800 BC. What tribe or group of people created this advanced civilization and what happened to them is a matter of great debate. The developments were localized and did not affect the region as a whole. This is due in part to Southeast Asia having some of the most inhospitable and inaccessible terrain in the world. This allowed some areas to develop into very sophisticated and modern societies while a few miles away deep in the jungles and remote mountain areas primitive societies survived.

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Phuket History - Ancient CarvingTin, a commodity as valuable as gold to ancient kingdoms was discovered several millennia ago in the Kathu (central) district of Phuket. Tin in seemingly endless quantities was easily extracted from veins near the surface. While no written records exist of when tin was first discovered and mined, cave drawings and recovered artwork and other artifacts go back well into the Stone Age. In ancient times people did not mine for tin. They found it, usually after a heavy rain washed away the topsoil and exposed the layers of gravel bearing tin. Phuket had long appeared on the charts of ship captains from India and the Arab nations as a source of fresh water, firewood, and pitch to caulk their boats. Ships would anchor in the safe harbors of Phuket and wait for the monsoon winds to allow them to proceed across the Andaman Sea to the Indian subcontinent. As these ships were at times forced to wait weeks or even months for favorable winds, it is believed that these early sailors discovered the precious metal.

Among the earliest permanent residents of Phuket were primitive tribes similar to the Semang pygmies that still exist today in Malaysia. Small tribes of these hunter-gathers survived in the jungle by hunting and eating the bountiful fruits and roots found in the lush triple-canopy rainforest that then covered the entire island. Small groups of these Semang people are reported to have survived in the dense jungles of the Phuket’s interior until finally being displaced in the mid-nineteenth century by tin miners.

Phuket History - Ancient Carving The coastal areas of Phuket were populated by a nomadic seafaring people, the Chao Nam or ‘sea gypsies’. The Chao Nam traditionally ‘strand looped’ or traveled from cove to cove, staying until the shellfish and other resources were depleted. They then moved on, allowing the cove to re-establish its former ecological balance before returning to repeat the cycle. Described as ‘Saliteers’ (pirates) the Chao Nam developed a rather unsavoury reputation among sea captains that plied the Straits of Malacca. The Chao Nam figured prominently in reports filed by early visitors of the area. Often they were described as a small but hardy people, who were expert sailors and who built small but sturdy ships that could weather the roughest seas. They moved from place to place like gypsies, encamping on the islands but never cultivating the soil. Piracy and fishing for pearls were their only means of support. They had no written language, practiced a religion based on animism, and were generally described as heathens of the first order. Captain Hamilton, an early European trader, writes of them: "Between Mergui (now coastal Burma) and Jonkcelaon (Phuket) there are several good harbors for shipping, but the sea coast is very thin of inhabitants, because there are great numbers of Freebooters (pirates), called Saliteers, who inhabit islands along the sea coast and they both rob and take people for slaves and transport them to the Sumatran kingdom of Atjeh (Indonesia) and there make sale of them and Jonkcelaon (Phuket) often feels the weight of their depredations." An early French Jesuit missionary believed it impossible to go by foot more than half a league from Junkceylon (Phuket) without life and property being endangered by bandits. The fierce reputation of these Saliteers (pirates) may explain why it took so long for permanent trading and mining settlements to be established on Phuket.

By the 3rd century there were scattered settlements of traders from south India along the west coast of Thailand. A four meter (13-ft) stone statue of the Hindu god ‘Vishnu’ was unearthed in the nearby province of Phang-nga. It is now on display in the Thalang National Museum in Phuket, and is one of many examples of art and sculpture recovered from this period. These early traders are believed to have been trying to establish a trade in cotton cloth, spices and tin.

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