Prior to the emergence of the Thai culture in its historically
identifiable from during the 13rd century, other cultures flourished
in Thailand. Despite the lack of historical evidence, archaeological
finds indicate that the first civilizations were a number of townships
founded in central Thailand. During the 6th to 11th centuries, these
towns formed alliances through cultural ties, trade and the common belief
in Buddhism. A strong cultural identity became recognized by neighboring
groups. The name 'To-lo-po-ti' referring to a large empire in central
Thailand, was recorded in Chinese chronicles. Now this empire is being
It may be that Dvaravati culture developed from prehistoric culture
which had existed in the alluvial plains of central Thailand. Certainly
the spread of Buddhism into the area during the 4th century was a unifying
force. Dvaravati art indicates that Hinayana Buddhism was first introduced.
A number of Buddha statues showing marked Indian influence from the
Amaravati-Gupta-post Gupta styles have been found. These statues from
the 6th to 8th centuries period are made of stone, bronze, stucco, and
terra cotta. Later, influences from Srivijaya art spread from the south
through the central region into the northeast and Mahayana Buddhism
took strength. Many statues of the Bhodhisatavas dated 8th to 11th centuries
were found. Finally the popular belief reverted to Hinayana Buddhism
Archaeological field projects are bringing to light knowledge of the
Dvaravati lifestyle. Dvaravati pottery displays distinct incised and
applies decorations. Personal effects such as ear-rings, beads, bangles,
rings, bells, etc., have been found, again showing influences from India.
Coins and medallions have also been unearthed, indicating advanced civilization.
Depicted on these are animal figures and symbols representing fertility,
the life elements and the Buddhist belief.
The decline of the Dvaravati culture is subject to further study. The
popular theory is that it disintegrated under the invasion of foreign
armies. More acceptable is the theory that external cultural influences
took precedence and absorbed Dvaravati into oblivion. During the 12th
century, some towns were abandoned due to changing water courses. Others
continued to flourish into the Ayudhaya period, being built upon until
little of the original Dvaravati remained.
During the 8th to 9th centuries, Srivijaya art was at its height in
the South. Scholars differ in Their theories about the seat of the great
Srivijaya empire. Whenever that may be, it become the vast trading centre
in Southeast Asia. It also created a cultural system in the southern
part of present day Thailand during the 3rd to 14th centuries. Archaeological
evidence of this period may be seen in the remains of a well organized
irrigation system is Songkhla. Artifacts found in the Thailand and dating
back to this trading period range from Phoenician coins to Roman beads.