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Sunday, August 1, 2010

NYAUNG GAN:AN ANCIENT PYU BURIAL SITE

NYAUNG GAN ANCIENT PYU BURIAL SITE
by: Hpone Thant

On a mound just overlooking the Chindwin River by the small village called Nyaung gan in Butalin Township of Sagaing Division is a cemetery. But it is not a simple village cemetery. This cemetery is an archaeology site. It is one of the rare Pyu burial grounds. The cemetery is hidden inside a grove of banana plantation but quite easy to access by foot from the village.

Pyu people are believed to be the ancestors of the present-day Bamar people.They were also highly civilized. The Pyus also founded many city states during their time. sent emissaries to nearby pricipalities. Some of the most famous Pyu city-states were, Sriksetra(Thayekhittaya), near Pyay, Beikthano, on the highway from Taungdwingyi to Magway and Hanlin, near Shwebo in Upper Myanmar. Pyu settlements had also been found in the Samon River Valley, near Wundwin township in the Mandalay Division and along the Ayeyarwady River banks at Kya nyat(near Tagaung). The Pyu also have their own language and a developed culture. A collection of five dancing figurines made history not very long ago when they were stolen from the National Museum, sold to an international antiques collector but later graciously returned by the owner to Myanmar.

But they also have the custom of burying with their dead various implements and utensils.This practice had helped in the identification of their burial sites.

Nyaung gan village is a typical Myanmar village, similar to other Dry Zone villages in Upper Myanmar. But one extraordinary phenomenon had made it different from the other Myanmar villages. Not far from it is a cemetery that the local villagers refer as Loke Taing gone(Burial Mound).It had laid there undisturbed for centuries. Nobody knew why this piece of ground was named as "Loke Taing Gone". The village elders say the name was handed down from generations to generations and they had always known that there was a cemetery nearby.

Then the Archaeological Department started excavations and unearthed more than 60 skeletons buried underground, including other artefacts typical of a Pyu burial practice. Forensic investigations also confirmed that all skeletons were identified as Pyu era remains. Almost all the skeletons were buried with their heads pointing North, except for one. The Pyu beliefs that the heads must be pointed northwards to help the departed spirits find their way back to the native lands where they had originated. But nobody could explain why one was not buried this way. Maybe he was an outsider who died at this place or something.Nobody knows. At some places the skeletons were also stacked, one above the other, some two and even in three tiers.

But there was a puzzle that still needs to be solved. Many of the skeletons were wearing pieces of square stone bangles on their wrists. Even now these bangles were impossible to take off. They would not slide out as the palms were obstructing. But then how did the wearers put these stone bangles on when they were alive? Surely the bangles were not put on after death. The palm, as stated above, would not fit the hole even with only the bones remaining. There were also no cuts or any signs on the bangles that point to anything that the bangles were tempered before being put on.

So who were these people? When did they live and , above all, how did they manage to put on the stone bangles? The mystery had remained locked for centuries now and would probably stay that way for many more years in the future.

Note:
Nyaung gan Village is easily accessible by car from Monywa, only about 2-3 hours drive. Leave the car at the village and walk a short distance to get to the cemetery. The site is now under the protection of the Archaeology Department.
Loke Taing is a very old Myanmar word for cemetery.

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