Laang Spean

Laang Spean (Khmer: ល្អាងស្ពាន) Cave of Bridges refers to a prehistoric cave site on top of a limestone hill (Phnom Teak Treang) in Battambang Province, north-western Cambodia. The site's name Cave of Bridges hints to the many limestone arches (or bridges) that remain after the partial collapse of the cave's vault.[1] Although excavations are still in progress, at least three distinct levels of ancient human occupation are already documented. At the site's deepest layers, around 5 meters below the ground, primitive flaked stone tools were unearthed, dating back to around 71,000 years BP.[2][3][4] Of great interest are above layers that contain records of the Hoabinhian (11,000 to 5,000 years BP) whose stratigraphic and chronological context has yet to be defined. Future excavations at Laang Spean might help to clarify the concept and "nature of the Hoabinhian" occupation and provide new data on the Pleistocene/Holocene transition in the region[5]

Laang Spean
location in Cambodia
Alternative nameCave of Bridges
LocationTreng Commune, Ratanakmundul district, Battambang Province, Cambodia
RegionMekong Floodplain
Coordinates12°51′N 102°55′E
Part ofPhnom Teak Treang hill
Length63 m (207 ft)
Width20 m (66 ft)
Area1,200 m2 (13,000 sq ft)
Height30 m (98 ft)
MaterialPermian marine limestone
Abandonedaround 3000 years BP
PeriodsUpper Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, Neolithic
Associated withPaleo-humans
Site notes
Excavation dates1965 to 1970, 2009 to current
ArchaeologistsRoland and Cecile Mourer


Roland Mourer and Cécile Mourer-Chauviré working for the Royal University of Phnom Penh undertook the first excavations from 1965 to 1969 and almost immediately brought to light evidence of prehistoric human occupation in Laang Spean from as long ago as 6.240 years BP. Objects found included tools made of hornfel, pottery, burnt animal bones, carbonized matter, shells of mollusks and a great variety of micro fauna remains.[6] In a deeper middle layer they found artifacts and tools, that "showed similarities with [] so-called Hoabinhian sites that had been uncovered in Southeast Asia, suggesting the possibility of a common cultural bedrock for a group of humans stretching from Burma to Vietnam."[7] Thirty years of war and ten years of mine clearing prevented further excavations.[8]

The French-Cambodian Prehistoric Mission - a team of Cambodian and French archaeologists and students - has resumed archaeological work since 2009 in room no. 2 (central part of the cave) over a surface of nearly 40 m2 (430 sq ft) that provides new stratigraphic, chronocultural and archaeo-zoological results. Currently, 20 stratigraphic units are recorded on a ground surface of 1,000 m2 (11,000 sq ft) to a depth of 5 meters without reaching the bed rock.[9]

The Neolithic burial sites of four men and one woman dating from 3.700 to 3.300 BP. were found in one of the top layers. The fact that some graves were lavishly adorned with stone jewelry and others not at all, suggests emergent social stratification among the population and provides researchers with "an original chronological, cultural landmark for South-East Asia, at the beginning of the Ages of Metal".[10]

The Hoabinhian level (later hunter–gatherers) contains split pebble tools and abundant faunal remains that dates between 11.000 and 5000 years BP. The team discovered "a large stone featuring what appear to be etchings in the shape of an arrow, dyed with a redocher color...It could be the first case of art in Cambodia"[sic].[11]

The team uncovered rudimentary stone tools (chert flakes and polyhedral, multiplatform cores) in the deepest Palaeolithic levels from as far back as 71.000 years BP.[12][13]

See also


  1. "We have evidence of cave dwellers in northwestern Cambodia living as long ago as 5000 BCE. Cambodian History Searching for the Truth, July 2009 By David Chandler". NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND DOCUMENTATION CENTER OF CAMBODIA. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  2. Sophady, Heng; Forestier, Hubert; Zeitoun, Valéry; Puaud, Simon; Frère, Stéphane; Celiberti, Vincenzo; Westaway, Kira; Mourer, Roland; Mourer-Chauviré, Cécile; Than, Heng; Billault, Laurence; Tech, Srun (September 2016). "Laang Spean cave (Battambang province): A tale of occupation in Cambodia from the Late Upper Pleistocene to Holocene". Quaternary International. 416: 162–176. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.07.049.
  3. Schliesinger, Joachim (2015-01-11). Ethnic Groups of Cambodia Vol 1: Introduction and Overview By Joachim Schliesinger. ISBN 9781633232327. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  4. David Chandler, A History of Cambodia (Westview Publishers: Boulder Colorado, 2008) p. 13.
  5. "TDirect dating of a Neolithic burial in the Laang Spean cave 1. Introduction - The resumption of excavations at Laang Spean provides an ideal basis for addressing these lacunae and defining..." Research gate. September 1, 2015. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  6. Thommeret, J.; Thommeret, Y. (1973). "Radiocarbon / Volume 15 / Issue 02 / January 1973, pp 321 - 344 DOI: 10.1017/S0033822200001247, Published online: 18 July 2016". Radiocarbon. 15 (2): 321–344. doi:10.1017/S0033822200001247. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  7. Mourer, Cécile; Mourer, Roland (1970). "The Prehistoric Industry of Laang Spean, Province of Battambang, Cambodia Cécile Mourer and Roland Mourer Archaeology & Physical Anthropology in Oceania Vol. 5, No. 2 (Jul., 1970), pp. 128-146". Archaeology & Physical Anthropology in Oceania. Oceania Publications, University of Sydney. 5 (2): 128–146. JSTOR 40386114.
  8. "Millenia of History Come to Life at Cave Site - BY BEN PAVIOUR". Cambodia Daily. 2016-01-23. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  9. "Ancient Skull Points to Possible Cannibalism". The Cambodia Daily. April 9, 2016. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  10. Zeitoun, Valéry; Forestier, Hubert; Sophady, Heng; Puaud, Simon; Billault, Laurence (October 1, 2012). "TDirect dating of a Neolithic burial in the Laang Spean cave (Battambang Province, Cambodia): First regional chrono-cultural implications". Comptes Rendus Palevol. 11 (7): 529–537. doi:10.1016/j.crpv.2012.06.006.
  11. "TDirect dating of a Neolithic burial in the Laang Spean cave (Battambang Province, Cambodia)". Research gate. September 1, 2015. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  12. Forestier, Hubert; Sophady, Heng; Puaud, Simon; Celiberti, Vincenzo; Frère, Stéphane; Zeitoun, Valéry; Mourer-Chauviré, Cécile; Mourer, Roland; Than, Heng; Billault, Laurence (June 1, 2015). "The Hoabinhian from Laang Spean Cave in its stratigraphic, chronological, typo-technological and environmental context (Cambodia, Battambang province)". Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 3: 194–206. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.06.008.
  13. "Human origin sites and the World Heritage Convention in Asia" (PDF). Unesco. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
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