Ethnologists, linguists, and archaeologists are still working to determine the individual components of the races, languages, and civilizations that make up the Vietnamese people. They represent a fusion of these aspects. The Indochina Peninsula was a crossroads for various migrations of people, including speakers of Austronesian, Mon-Khmer, and Tai languages. This was true for much of Southeast Asia, but it was especially true for the Indochina Peninsula. The cultural diversity of the Vietnamese people may be somewhat deduced from the linguistic makeup of their language. Even though Vietnamese is its own independent language, a significant portion of its fundamental vocabulary comes from Mon-Khmer. The tonality of Vietnamese comes from the Tai languages, and some of its grammatical elements come from Mon-Khmer as well as Tai. In addition, Vietnamese has traces of influence from Austronesian languages, as well as significant infusions of literary, political, and philosophical terminology from later periods of Chinese history.
There is evidence of human habitation in the region that is now known as Vietnam going back to the Paleolithic period. Some of the archaeological sites in Thanh Hoa Province are said to date back several thousand years. Archaeologists date the birth of Vietnamese civilization to the Phung-nguyen culture, which flourished from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age and was headquartered in the Vinh Phu Province of modern-day Vietnam. This civilisation flourished from around 2000 to 1400 B.C. The cultivation of wet rice and the casting of bronze on the plains around the Ma River and the Red River about 1200 B.C. led to the establishment of the Dong Son culture, which is famous for the complex bronze drums that it produced. The bronze tools, weapons, and drums found in Dong Sonian sites have a Southeast Asian influence, which points to an indigenous origin for the technique of bronze casting. The northern region of Vietnam has yielded the discovery of a significant number of smaller, more ancient copper mine sites. The existence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt buildings, and evidence of the habits of betel nut chewing and teeth-blackening are some of the parallels between the sites of Dong Sonian and those of other Southeast Asian countries.
According to the oldest Vietnamese beliefs, Hung Vuong, the first monarch of the semilegendary Hung dynasty (mythological dates: 2879-258 B.C. ), was the one who established the country of Vietnam. Hung Vuong was also the ruler of the kingdom of Van Lang at the time. According to Vietnamese legend, Hung Vuong was the eldest son of Lac Long Quan (also known as the Lord of Lac) and Au Co, a Chinese immortal. Lac Long Quan moved to the Red River Delta from his home in the sea to be with Au Co. Rice cultivation is ascribed to Lac Long Quan, a cultural hero of Vietnam, who is said to have taught the people how to do it. According to oral history, the Hung dynasty reigned over Van Lang for eighteen generations. Dong Sonian culture is closely tied with the Hung dynasty and is studied by Vietnamese academics. By the sixth century B.C., one of the most significant aspects of this civilisation was the tidal irrigation of rice fields, which was accomplished by an intricate network of canals and dikes. The fields were known as the Lac fields, and the name Lac, which was first documented for the Vietnamese people in Chinese annals, was given to the Vietnamese people.
The Hung kings governed Van Lang in a feudal manner with the assistance of the Lac lords. The Lac lords were in charge of the communal settlements that were located around each irrigated area, as well as the organisation of the construction and maintenance of the dikes and the regulation of the water supply. In addition to growing rice, the inhabitants of Van Lang also farmed a variety of other grains and legumes, and they kept a variety of livestock, most notably buffaloes, chickens, and pigs. Crafts such as basketry, leatherworking, and the weaving of hemp, jute, and silk were well developed. Other highly developed crafts included producing pottery and working with bamboo. Dugout canoes, which navigated the system of rivers and canals, served as the primary mode of transportation and communication throughout this time period.
An Duong Vuong, the ruler of the adjacent upland kingdom of Thuc, overthrew the last Hung monarch in the third century B.C. and installed himself as the new king of Hung. An Duong Vuong built his city and fortress at Co Loa, which is about 35 kilometres north of where Hanoi is now located. This was at the time when An Duong Vuong combined Van Lang and Thuc to establish Au Lac. The kingdom of An Duong did not last long, however, since it was captured in 208 B.C. by the army of the Chinese Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.), which was led by the military leader Trieu Da (Zhao Tuo in Chinese). Trieu Da combined the territories under his control in southern China and northern Vietnam to establish the kingdom of Nam Viet (also known as Nan Yue in Chinese), which literally translates to “Southern Viet.” Trieu Da did this because he was unwilling to accept the rule of the new Han dynasty, which ruled from 206 B.C. to A.D. 220. The Chinese referred to the different peoples living on the southernmost borders of the Han empire as “Viet,” which included the people who lived in the Red River Delta. This name was pronounced “Yue.” Trieu Da partitioned his kingdom of Nam Viet into nine military districts. The southern three, which encompassed the northern portion of modern-day Vietnam, were named Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam. Even after becoming Nam Viet’s vassals, the Lac lords maintained their authority over the Red River Delta.