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While ceramic vessel forms are highly variable and difficult to compare in such an analysis and ceramic temper sequences for most sites in the region are incompletely documented, Rispoli’s (as previously analysed by Rispoli 1997, 2007) disentangling of the incised and impressed designs that predominate in the decorative modes of the assemblages has added to our understanding of the movements of these designs during the Neolithic. This extends to the relationship between these motifs and other material cultural variables within Southeast Asia. The distributions of selected analysed variables in the CAs, intended to be open-ended areas rather than to have rigid boundaries, are presented in Figures 9.4, 9.5 and 9.6. The absence of central Vietnamese sites in this comparative study is a notable deficiency, and hinders interpretation for MSEA as a whole. Further research across MSEA is needed to add to the currently available perspective.

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Correspondence Analysis (CA) is an exploratory analytical technique that is essentially a principal component analysis of tables of categorical data, and the results are illustrated in a graphical plot of the relationship between the rows and columns of a table (Baxter 2003: 137). The CA undertaken here aims for a systematic comparison of the ceramics and other material culture between sites in southern Vietnam, and MSEA in general, improving on the broad descriptive approaches and illustrative data presentations on which past comparisons have relied. The data employed here result from personal observations of some collections but other collections are represented only by their published documentation. Further, to relate the chronology of the analysed sites to the sequence at An Son, the material culture at An Son was divided into a burial phase and early, middle and late phases of occupation.

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The likely immediate source for the An Son Neolithic was northeast and central Thailand, particularly in view of the specific parallels between An Son and Nong Nor (Phase 1) in the CA. There are also clear similarities between An Son and Krek in their material culture. While these are less clearly reflected in the CA, this could at least partly reflect taphonomic factors, because the local soil conditions at Krek did not allow for the preservation of bone and shell artefacts. In summary, there is evidence for long-lasting and widespread Neolithic traditions that extended to southern Vietnam, but little sign of direct contact between An Son and sites further north during the 1,000 years of occupation at An Son, when contact via material culture was limited to the more immediate vicinity of southern Vietnam and southeastern Cambodia.

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The identified variables for the CA included the major ceramic vessel forms, modes of decoration and surface treatment, location of decoration on ceramic vessels, ceramic temper when possible, and the presence (or absence) of animal bones, specific stone tools, other stone and bone/ivory tools and ornaments, and ceramic/clay items like roundels and pellets at An Son and the other 14 assessed sites. A total of 131 cultural variables were included in the CA, of which 73 were ceramic vessel variables and the remaining 58 were other material-culture variables (Table 9.2).

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For the purposes of comparing An Son with other MSEA Neolithic sites, only those with evidence from premetal contexts, both early and late Neolithic, are included, even though only some of these have secure radiocarbon-dated chronologies. Examples with clear and established Neolithic sequences include Ban Non Wat and Man Bac (Higham and Higham 2009a; Oxenham et al. 2011). Tha Kae exhibited Neolithic evidence in the lowest occupational layer 5, while Khok Charoen has one secure date from a burial of 2853 BP and the site is associated with Neolithic material culture (Ciarla 1992; Bulbeck 2011; Ciarla n.d.). Charles Higham suggests Khok Phanom Di and Nong Nor (Phase 1) are hunter-gatherer-fisher sites since there is no secure evidence that the occupants ever cultivated rice. There were some rice remains at Khok Phanom Di but they appear to reflect trade with Neolithic rice cultivators located inland, whereas Nong Nor proceeded directly from a hunter-gatherer site during Phase 1 to a Bronze Age site in Phase 2 (Charles Higham, pers. comm.). Nevertheless, Khok Phanom Di and Nong Nor (Phase 1) are included in the comparison due to similar dates with An Son, so as to represent the coastal region of central Thailand at the time.