Ancient bronze drums are a favorite item of Vietnamese antique collectors, thanks to the complicated designs and patterns on their surface.
Though such drums may be worth up to almost a billion dong (VND1 billion equals US$47,000), depending on its condition and age, they are not very rare in Vietnam.
Ancient bronze drums were previously used as an object of worship and for burials.
Hundreds of ancient bronze drums have been dug up in the past ten years in the Southeast Asian country. They were mainly gathered in cemeteries, which antique hunters call ‘bronze drum mines,’ in the Central Highlands and the south-central region, according to a close source of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
The ‘mines’ are located in provinces such as Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan, Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa, Lam Dong, and Dak Lak.
A Tuoi Tre journalist was advised to meet a man named Duong, who is in his 50s, in Phu Yen Province. Duong is considered a lucky intermediary who can connect buyers and sellers of bronze drums.
Duong shared pictures of several bronze drums on his mobile phone, describing one piece with a surface diameter of 80cm for VND80 million ($3,800), another with a diameter of 100cm for VND165 million ($7,900), and a third with a diameter of 120cm for VND200 million ($9,600).
The drums had sustained damage to their bodies and surfaces.
Tuoi Tre was not allowed to see the drums in person because they were being kept in a secret place in Khanh Hoa Province.
Duong once worked as an antique hunter and traversed forests in search of antiques with his metal detector. So, he not only has good ties with many people in the trade, but also knows the origin of the bronze drums he showed.
Damaged drums that need be mended and welded are still worth tens of millions of dong. (VND10 million is US$470)
‘Cemeteries of bronze drums’
In the middle of last year, a Tuoi Tre journalist was offered an ancient bronze drum in good condition for VND700 million ($33,700).
It had been found in a new “bronze drum mine,” said the seller. The new ‘mine’ is in an area of Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands.
In mid-2009, a man from the K’Ho ethnic minority discovered a bronze drum there with a metal detector. By the end of that year, he had taken several other people to the site.
They discovered a cemetery and found four bronze drums in good condition.
The four drums lay alternately between tombs, and each drum sat beneath a rock and above a human skeleton.
The group then discovered another cemetery about a half-a-day walk from the previous one. There, they dug up six more drums, as well as other ancient objects.
News of the discoveries leaked, and other groups in Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, and Lam Dong joined the search for antiques in the ‘mines,’ which include many cemeteries.
Over the past five years, the groups have unearthed around 100 bronze drums at the new ‘mine,’ said Duong.
A notable detail is that most of the ‘mines’ in Lam Dong are located near areas where the K’Ho people live, on the border between Bao Lam District and Bao Loc Town.
The biggest ‘mine’ is believed to be in Xuan Vinh Hamlet, Phu Xuan Commune, Krong Nang District, Dak Lak Province, in the Central Highlands.
Since 2003, the site has ‘hosted’ hundreds of groups of antique hunters.
“Bronze drums found in Xuan Vinh are not as beautiful as in other sites, but the area has so many pieces,” said an antique hunter. “Sometimes, hunters can discover ten drums a day there.”
It is estimated that over 200 bronze drums have been dug up in Xuan Vinh, said a hunter.
Another major ‘mine’ is located in Ninh Xuan Commune, Ninh Hoa Town, Khanh Hoa Province. Since 2003, around 80 bronze drums have been unearthed in the area.
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