What is now Thailand has been home to a number of ethnic groups since the dawn of human history. Prehistoric stone implements dating back to the Paleolithic Period have been found in many parts of Thailand. A recent discovery of Homo erectus skull cap fragments in the north puts the dates of human history in the country back to the period between 1.6-0.5 million years. Evidence of settled village life was also discovered in many areas totalling half the size of the country. Artefacts made by the people in this period include implements made of stone, wood, bone, and shell to serve various specific functions. Rock art exists in a number of cave sites in all parts of the country. Many rock paintings depict very clearly the ways of life of settled village people with scenes like wet rice cultivation, cattle-herding, a man leading an ox by rope, and dog-handling.
By about 2000-1800 B.C. bronze appeared in common use. With tin and copper deposits, Thailand was probably one of the few places where both minerals could be collected. Copper mining sites in Northeast and Central Thailand have engaged archaeologists in a project on archaeo-metallurgy for more than ten years. Successive excavations reveal large-scale copper smelting industries, with tons of slags and ingot moulds, and many burials associated with metal artifact offerings. Iron came into use relatively early, too. It first appeared with bronze in the same artefact : a bi-metallic spearhead has its blade made of iron with a bronze socketed handle. A number of iron bracelets were found wrapped around bracelets made of bronze. By 500 B.C. - 200 A.D. contacts with India and China were increased, as attested by trade goods such as etched beads, glass ceramics, as well as other objects made of metal with motifs indicative of foreign origins. Chinese records mentioned the existence of many towns and cities from the 3rd century A.D. onwards. Some urban societies rose to their peaks in the 7thcentury A.D.
The Thais did not settle in Southeast Asia until towards the end of the first millennium A.D. Sukhothai was founded around 1220 A.D1. in northern Thailand. Its third ruler, King Ramkhamhaeng (1279- 1298) invented Thai script, for the first time, in 1283. This prosperous city and kingdom was ruled by a benevolent paternal monarch, or‘father-king,’ in contrast to the ‘godking’ of contemporary Angkor in Cambodia. Sukhothai culture, its people, and way of life were based very much on Buddhism, as was another contemporary kingdom known as Lan Na, situated further north. Sukhothai lasted about 160 years, falling under the domination of Ayutthaya in 1378. Buddhist art of the Sukhothai Period remains a distinguished classic style in Thai history.
Ayutthaya, founded in 1350 A.D., was a very powerful state. The regime adopted the Khmer model of ‘God-King’ in administering royal affairs. Its 417 years in power left unmatched records in world history as the only state in Southeast Asia open to international trade and diplomacy with almost any country that came into contact, including those of Europeans. French records related in detail the friendship between King Louis XIV of France and King Narai of Ayutthaya in the 17th century. Ayutthaya was united and militarily strong, capable not only of defending itself from outside
attacks, but also, from time to time, able to expand its sovereignty into neighbouring countries, some of which became vassals of Ayutthaya, for some time. However, Ayutthaya fell to the military power of Myanmar in 1767.
Taksin, a general who escaped from the city with some followers, rallied Thai forces to repulse Myanmar and become king, setting up a new capital at Thon Buri in 1768. The present Royal House of Chakri was founded by one of Taksin’s generals, who established Bangkok in 1782 and became King Rama l. Under his rule the former territory of Ayutthaya was regained.
In the 19th century, foreign contacts were increased. The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Thailand and the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam (as Thailand was called until July 1939). However, it was during the later reigns of King Rama IV (1851-1868), and his son, King Rama V (1868- 1910), that Thailand attained firm rapprochement with Western powers. Through the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the Thai government, Siam emerged as the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization. Under the reign of these two Thai kings, the Kingdom of Siam underwent rapid modernization. A new financial system was introduced and post, telegraphic and railway communications were established. Irrigation was developed in the central plain, resulting in the production of a large rice surplus. The system of justice was remodelled as the government reorganised. The absolute monarchy continued until the bloodless coup of 1932 converted Thailand into a constitutional monarchy. Despite the removal of political power, the monarchy still retains the love and loyalty of the Thai people.
The present king, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has engaged himself in more than 3,000 ‘royal development projects’ so far, since his accession to the throne in 1946.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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