The contribution of geophysics to archaeology: a case study of an ancient canal of the Oc Eo culture in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Le Ngoc Thanh, Nguyen Quang Dung, Nguyen Quang Bac, Nguyen Quang Mien, Nguyen Dan Vu, Duong Ba Man, Nguyen Dinh Chau


Generally, underground ancient canals are infilled with alluvial materials, with the canal bed and substrate often having different resistivity values. This study aimed to determine the location and morphology of Malleret’s ancient canal 16 located to the southeast of the Ba The mountain, Mekong Delta, Vietnam by means of geophysical techniques. Two geophysical methods were used: electromagnetic profile and electric resisitivity tomography. A geoelectric structure 70 m long with 70–95 mS/m of apparent conductivity was found. On the electrical resistivity tomography section, a resistivity zone of 10–20 Ω∙m, 1–4 m deep, 70 m wide corresponds to the mentioned above geoelectric structure, which is in an asymmetric U-shape extending toward the southeast-ern bank of canal 16. Hand-augering confirmed that the canal bed is fully incised into Holocene sediments as a substrate which stretches down to the Pleistocene. The sediments are composed of loams mixed with plant re-mains with a resistivity ρ ~ 10–15 Ω∙m. Both of the canal banks at a depth of 5 m are made up of Holocene sedi-ments (ρ ~ 4–10 Ω∙m). The 14C measurements determined the age of the organic matter in the canal as being equal to 1210 ±85 BP, suggesting canal 16 ceased being operational at that time. The precise positioning of canal 16 on the ground surface, as well as identifying the morphology of the canal bed, were corroborated by geophysical techniques. The obtained results are of considerable value to archaeologists.


electromagnetic profiling, electrical resistivity tomography, hand-auger, radiocarbon dating, ancient canal, alluvial deposit, Oc Eo culture, Ba The mountain

Full Text:



Abueladas A.E., Akawwi E., Al-Ruzouq R. & Alzoubi A., 2017. Research article using 2D and 3D CVES in archaeology at Umm Qais, Jordan. Journal of Applied Sciences, 41–47.

Bac N.Q., Thanh L.N., Son V.H., & Tuan N.H., 2018. Determining the spatial distribution characteristics of some ancient canals in the Ba The area, Oc Eo, Nui Sap, Dinh My and Da Noi (An Giang province). The 21st Congress of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 23-28 Sept., Hue, Vietnam.

Basheer A., Al-Imam A., Abdelmotaal A.M., Mostafa S.T. & Elkhateeb S., 2014. Appliance of geophysical methods to detect the ancient remains at “Tell Defenneh” area, Ismailia, Egypt. Archaeological Discovery, 2, 71–82.

Bishop P., Sanderson D., & Stark M.T., 2003. OSL and radiocarbon dating of a pre-Angkorian canal in the Mekong Delta, southern Cambodia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 319–336.

Bourdonneau E. 2003. The ancient cannel system of the Mekong Delta–Preliminary. Physical and metal landscapes–Eurasea a sigtuna conference proceedings, 257–270.

Cygal A., Stefaniuk M., Kret A., & Kurowska M., 2016. The application of electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), induced polarization (IP) and electromagnetic conductivity (EMC) methods for the evaluation of technical condition of flood embankment corpus. Geology, Geophysics and Environment, 42 (3),279–287.

Giang N.V. &, Thanh L.N., 2009. Geophysical techniques for hydrogeological targets in semi-desert area in southern part of Vietnam. Journal of Geologia, AGH, Krakow, Tom 35 (2/1).

Giang N.V., Thanh L.N., Dung N.Q., & Guy M., 2012. The assessment of sub-surface contaminant spread around the Dong Thanh waste deposit Ho Chi Minh City by near-surface geophysical data. Journal of Earth Sciences, 3 (T.34) (in Vietnamese).

Giang N.V., Duan N.B., Thanh L.N. & Noboru H., 2013. Geophysical techniques to aquifer locating and monitoring for industrial zones in north Hanoi, Vietnam. Acta Geophysica, vol. 61, no. 6, 1573–1597.

Giang N.V., ThanhL.N. , Hiep V.Q. & Noboru H., 2014. Hydrological and hydrogeological characterization of groundwater and river water in the North Hanoi industrial area, Vietnam. Envron Earth Sci, 71, 4915–4924.

Gołębiowski T., Żogała B., Mendecki M., & Małysa T., 2017.The application of electromagnetic methods for polymetallic prospecting in mining conditions. Geology, Geophysics and Environment, 43 (3), 181–189.

Gourry J.C., Vermeersch F., Garcin M., & Giot D., 2003. Contribution of geophysics to the study of alluvial deposits: a case study in the Val d’Avaray area of the River Loire, France. Journal of Applied Geophysics, 54, 35–49.

Linh D.V., et al., 2015. Project “Investigation, assessment of neo-geodynamics to improve the climate change scenarioand proposing the adaptive measures in Mekong Delta”. Southern Vietnam Divison of Geological Map (in Vietnamese).

Loke M.H., Chambers, J.E., Rucker D.F., Kuras O. & Wilkinson P.B., 2013. Recent developments in the direct-current geoelectrical imaging method. Journal of Applied Geophysics, 95, 135–156.

Malleret L., 1959. L’Archéologie du Delta du Mékong, Tome Premier, L’Exploration Archéologiqueet les fouilles d’Oc-Èo. École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris, 451–454.

Malleret L., 1963. L’Archéologie du Delta du Mékong, Tome Quatrième, Le Cisbassac.École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris, 199–203.

McNeil, J.D., 1985. Technical Note TN-6, Electromagnetic terrain conductivity measurement at low induction numbers. Geonics, Mississauga,Ontario, Canada.

Neary M.P., 1999. 14C Age dating by Benzene Synthesis & Liquid Scintillation Counting, University of Georgia, USA.

Osinowo O. & Falufosi M.O., 2018. Application of radial electrical resistivity profile array for mapping deep vertical fractures in a proposed engineering construction site within the University of Ibadan Campus, Southwestern Nigeria. Geology, Geophysics and Environment, 44 (3), 329–338.

Paris P., 1931. Anciens canaux reconnus sur photographies aériennes dans les provinces de Ta Kèv et de Châu Đốc. Bulletin de L’École françaised’Extrême-Orient, Volume 31/ Numéro 1, 221–224.

Paris P., 1941. I. Anciens canaux reconnus sur photographies aériennes dans les provinces de Takeo, ChâuĐốc, Long Xuyên et RạchGiá (Complémentà la note parue dans Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, 1931, p.221 et suivantes). Bulletin de l’École françaised’Extrême-Orient, Tom 41, 1941, 365–370.

Paris P., 1941. II. Autres canaux reconnus à l’Est du Mékong par examen d’autres photographies aériennes (provinces de ChâuĐốc et de Long Xuyên). Bulletin de l’École françaised’Extrême-Orient, Tom 41, 1941, 371–372.

Selim E.I., Basheer A.A., Elqady G., & Hafez M.A., 2014. Shallow seismic refraction, two-dimensional electrical resistivity imaging, and ground penetrating radar for imaging the ancient monuments at the western shore of Old Luxor city, Egypt. Archaeological Discovery, 2, 31–43.

Telford W.M., Geldart L.P. & Sheriff R.E., 1990. Applied Geophysics, 2nd edition,Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Thanh L.N, Thuan N.V., Trung D.H. & Triet V.M., 2013. Combination of ground penetrating radar and electrical prospecting for exploring shallow geological structure. Journal of Marine sciences and technology, 3A (T.13) (in Vietnamese).

Thuyen L.X., 2005. Eco-geological analysis to identify ancient canal bed of Oc Eo culture. Journal of Archaeology, 4(136) (in Vietnamese).

Vogelsang D., 1995. Environmental Geophysics. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Xue Z., . Liu J., DeMaster D., Lap V.N. & Ta K.O., 2010. Late Holocene Evolution of the Mekong Subaqueous Delta, Southern Vietnam. Marine Geology, 269, 46–60.



  • There are currently no refbacks.