Ancient Floods, Modern Hazards: The Ping River, Paleofloods and the ’Lost City’ of Wiang Kum Kam

Document Type


Publication Date



This paper demonstrates that the importance of rivers in northern Thailand was anchored upon society’s dependence on them for sustenance and defense. Concurrently, rivers were also of deep religious and cultural significance. Hence, many northern Thai settlements were located near rivers. This resulted in their susceptibility to flood hazards. Our study investigates the interactions between the Ping River and the population of Wiang Kum Kam. Wiang Kum Kam was one of the former capitals of the Lanna Kingdom, a thirteenth- to sixteenth-century polity in northern Thailand. Described as the ‘Atlantis’ of the Lanna kingdom, the city was buried under flood sediments several centuries ago. Based on the floodplain sediments excavated, we argue that the city was abandoned after a large flood. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal found in the coarse sand layer deposited by the flood suggests that the deposition occurred sometime after ca. 1477 AD–1512 AD. Prior to this large flood, persisting floods in the city were noted in the Chiang Mai Chronicle and were also recorded in the floodplain stratigraphy. We show that an elongated mound on the floodplain in Wiang Kum Kam was a dyke constructed after ca. 1411 AD to alleviate the effects of persisting floods. From this story of paleofloods and Wiang Kum Kam, we conclude with two lessons for the management of modern floods in urban Thailand.