History of Thailand, The Land of Smiles

Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand has a history as a sovereign state dating back more than 700 years.

The modern name means literally 'Land of the Free', and although this sounds suspiciously trite the Thais have experienced exceptional historical freedom.

Unlike its neighbours, Thailand never suffered the fate of colonization by a European power.

Thailand means "land of the free", and throughout the country's 800 year history, the Thai people can boast the distinction of being the only country in Southeast Asia never to have been colonised.

Formerly known as Siam to foreigners who first came this region as early as the 12th century, the country's name was changed to Thailand with the advent of a democratic government in 1939.

Long before the emergence of what is conventionally called the Thai kingdom during the 12th century, the area known as Chao Phraya valley was inhabited by ancient civilizations that can be traced back to prehistoric times.

By far the most important archaelogical discoveries confirming these ancient people were made in the tiny vilalge of Ban Chiang near Udon Thani in the Northeast. Systematic excacation of Ban Chiang began only two decades ago, revealing painted pottery, jewellery, bronze and iron tools.

Settlement began about 3600 B.C. and lasted until about 2500 B.C. The Ban Chiang people farmed rice, domesticated their animals, and were skillful potters.

But even before human beings roamed the northeastern plateau, the region was once home to a more ancient species of animal- the dinosaur.

In 1984, fossils from a plant eating dinosaur were found in Phu Wiang province, and was named Phuwiangosaurus sirindhormae, while a more recent fossil discovery unearthed the Siamotyrannus isanensis, a fierce meat eating ancestor of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex

Over the centuries, the area was influenced by various cultures, from the Indians in the 3rd century, the Mons between the 6th to the 11th centuries, and the Khmers who built the wondrous Angkor Wat and who also left their legacy in the form of numerous stone sanctuaries scattered across the Thai kingdom.

Thailand's dominant culture is believe to have arrived with tribes who moved down from southern China almost a thousand years ago.

They settled in what is now northern Thailand before expanding south to the rich plains and valleys, gradually asserting their independence from existing Khmer and Mon kingdoms.

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