Posted by: Johan Normark | May 28, 2010

The archaeology of sand art

What do an archaeologist/Mayanist do when he is on vacation for two months in Thailand and Malaysia when there are no ancient ruins around? He constructs these ruins themselves out of sand and watch them deterioriate through the processes of erosion (wind, rain, high-tide, mini-tsunamis (“waves”), peeing dogs and tourists in combination with poor construction techniques). Here is an eroded sand castle from Khao Lak.

Since my son and I are no experts in sand art constructions we (read I) tended to follow a basic formula of stacking sandy platforms on top of each other. This is a lession that a 2012er can learn by practical engagement with construction material. It is simply easier to construct buildings, sand castles or sand pyramids this way (there were no extraterrestrial beings in our construction processes that I am aware of). Here is our final “Maya” pyramid in a Late Classic Tikal style (Hat Karon on Phuket).

The other simple formula that my son and I easily could follow were walls and towers in combination with an already existing topography. Here is our first (of two) replicas of the Great Wall of China (on Koh Bulone). This is also a quite simple construction that I do not think should be on the 7 wonders of the world list, just like the original.

Finally, here is an example of sand art from Koh Lipe. This Buddha was slightly better than our own works of art.



  1. Nice! It reminds me of the days when I held a cource for an adult education class in archaeology. To show how different graves where constructed I made some small models in stone, sand and earth and photographed them. It seems that the result was quite good since some of my students thought it was real tombs that I had photographed.

  2. I continued with pyramid constructions at Delsjön last weekend. I probably continue in Mexico as well, but when I am over there maybe I should do a replica of a prang?

  3. Experimental archaeology seems a good way to look at erosion- I suppose you can also use it to simulate earthquakes?

  4. Plenty of tourists shook the grounds surrounding our masterpieces.


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