Son Vi culture was a culture of the late Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic Age in Vietnam. It was named after the Son Vi commune, Lam Thao district, Phu Tho province and was discovered by Vietnamese archaeologists in 1968. Now, more than 140 sites of Son Vi culture have been discovered, distributed mainly on midland hills and some caves in North Vietnam. Tools were carved from river and stream pebbles and stones and could perform more functions than that of the previous period. Son Vi culture was a hunting and gathering culture - they did not know how to cultivate or raise livestock nor make pottery.  It existed from about 23,000 and 11,000 years ago and was superseded by Hoa Binh culture. 

Van Thang stone artifacts were discovered in 1972 and are relics of Son Vi culture. They were located in Van Thang commune, Ba Vi district, about 65 km from the center of Hanoi to the west-northwest and about 1 km from the Red River to the south. Many artifacts were found on the surface of mounds and hills that were the ancient terraces of the Red River and which varied from 10 to 30m high.  The surface is well lateritized. Lateritization is a weathering process, occurring under humid tropical climates, leading to the dissolution of most soluble elements, such as Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Calcium and some Silicon while accumulating less soluble elements such as Iron, Aluminium and Manganese. 

In terms of topography and geomorphology, these hills are quite similar to those in the midland Phong Chau (Phu Tho) area opposite the Red River.

All the artifacts in the Van Thang museum collection came from the lateritized mound surface although at different depths. 

Stone tools made from river pebbles are mostly quartzite. There are very few craftable pebbles in the area - the nearest place being Nhong market area near the center of Ba Vi district with a layer of pebbles nearly 1m thick.

There are fewer stone fragments in the Van Thang collection than in other Son Vi artifact collections. The assortment of pebble tools here reflects the basic characteristics of Son Vi culture but there are differences with the Son Vi collection in Phu Tho, where the vertical edge tool is the majority. In Van Thang the horizontal edge tool is the majority with 34 specimens, accounting for 44.73%. Meanwhile, the horizontal edge tool accounted for 7.89% and the ¼ pebble tool accounted for 2.63%. 

All of the Van Thang tools are single-sided, not double-sided. The typical tool is the horizontal edge tool, large in size and simple, reminiscent of the chopping tools of the early Paleolithic period. These tools have large blade angles, most commonly from 70 to 90 degrees. 

The unique characteristics of this collection of artifacts from the Van Thang commune of Son Vi culture can be seen. These are exemplified by the high percentage of horizontal and unformed tools, the low percentages of stripping and vertical edge tools, ¼ pebble tools, and also large rough burrs. Accordingly, archaeologists rank the Van Thang collection as appearing in the early stage of Son Vi culture.

(The article has references to documents of colleagues at the Institute of Archeology)

The group of Son Vi stone artifacts is expected to be displayed in permanent exhibition at the Hanoi Museum


                                                                Phạm Tân Tiến