Towards the end of the 6th or in the early 7th century, Khmer potters instituted an important technique for mass production of ceramics when they began to use the wheel. A Khmer inscription dating to 674 compares the source of creation to the potter’s wheel. Ceramics of this period were sometimes decorated with slip and paint, but this practice was abandoned after 800 when glazed stonewares first appeared.
The first glazed ceramics made in Southeast Asia beyond the orbit of Chinese control were associated with the Khmer rulers Indravarman and Yasovarman, who reigned from the 880s to 940. It is not known, however, how the method of firing stonewares or of glazing appeared in Cambodia.
Khmer ceramics were not exported beyond the Khmer cultural zone.
The provinces of Buriram and Surin are located approximately 370 kilometres northeast of Bangkok and bordering Cambodia on the Khorat Plateau. There, evidence has been found of more than 200 kilns which produced both unglazed and glazed stonewares. These kilns were scattered over the southern part of both provinces, suggesting that they were not major centres of production like at Sukhothai or Sawankhalok in north central Thailand (Brown 1988: 44-45).
Although these sites are now in Thai territory, the ancient kilns produced Khmer-style pottery, which the French archaeologist Bernard P. Groslier called “provincial”, by which some interpret to mean “artistically inferior to those of the Angkor region” (Miksic 2009: 57). They are located along the old Angkorian highways that led to Phimai, where a major Khmer temple is known, the foundations dating to the 11th century.
Another location is at Prasat Ban Phluang, in Surin province, where an 11th-century Khmer temple stands and over 4,000 sherds were found. Brown adds, “reassembled, the sherds represented 270 recognisable vessels and perhaps another 126 primarily earthenware shapes that could not be reconstructed. Since no internal evidence for dating was excavated, these wares could only be dated by their association with the prasat [temple] itself, which was perhaps actively used for a hundred years after its construction about the mid-11th century.” (1988: 47)
The kilns of Buriram and Surin include the following: Ban Thanon Noi in Ban Kruat district, Ban Baranae, Ban Sawai, and Prakon Chai. These will be considered as a group here as there is currently not enough information on individual areas; the Thai-Cambodian border being an area of unrest, few excavations since the 1970s have been permitted. Miksic (2009: 57) elaborates:
“The kilns in Buriram and Surin seem to have specialised in brown glazed ware, and were mainly active during the 11th and early 12th century, up to the construction of Angkor Wat. During this phase of Khmer civilisation, the area of northeast Thailand now known as the Khorat Plateau was the scene of important architectural developments such as the temple of Phimai which served as the model for Angkor Wat. The dynasty of Mahidharapura which built Angkor Wat came not from the Angkor region, but from the Khorat Plateau. […]
Ban Thanon Noi, had three kilns, which were excavated before they were destroyed in February 1985. Several layers of cross-draft kilns; two parallel chambers, each 26 x 5 or 6 metres, with a communal chimney. They produced light green bowls and covers with fine white clay, some of which had brown glaze applied over the green glaze on the feet of the bowls in a second stage. This is the only place in Buriram where such a technique was practiced. Covered boxes and bowls with ornate lids were also made here. Some of these had green-glazed exteriors, with brown-glazed interiors. Some white glazed ceramics were also produced. A second type of clay body, grey in colour, was used for brown-glazed bowls, boxes, oil lamps and jars. […] This site has been considered by some Thai archaeologists as producing the best ceramics of the Buriram kilns, including bichromatic wares. Wasters show that both green and brown wares were fired simultaneously in the same kilns.”
Further, Miksic (ibid.) continues:
“Though the Buriram kilns are known for their brown glazed wares, they also produced green-glazed pottery. At Ban Baranae, for example, these included common bowls with thin green glaze and flat bases, jars with incised chevron patterns on the shoulders and olive green glaze, and unusual items such as rectangular cowbells, inscribed with Khmer characters.”
In addition, “Sawai produced a range of wares: light green bowls with white body, green-glazed storage jars with grey body, brown boxes, lamps and jars of clays ranging from yellow to black, some with the well-known incised wavy lines. [They also] produced brown jars with nicely-molded pendant-form decorations on the shoulders.” (Miksic 2009: 57)
Finally, at Prakon Chai district, roof finials and decorated roof tile ends like those produced near Angkor and near Phnom Kulen have been found, but although their form is very similar the examples are unglazed.
These Khmer kilns found in Northeast Thailand produced many wares similar to those of the Angkorian period. However, certain forms were rare or absent in the Cambodian kilns, such as animal figurines, consisting of owls, “birds, elephants, boars, fish, rabbits and anteaters” (Miksic 2009: 57).
Sources: Groslier 1981a; Brown 1988; Miksic 2009; Stock 1981
|Prasat Ban Phluang is a Khmer Hindu temple located in north-eastern Thailand. More information can be found in Brown’s 1978 article in the arts journal, Arts of Asia.|
|This baluster jar with a foot was restored by Brown and represents one of the most common shapes found there, along with bottles of all shapes and sizes. Other vessels included bowls and covered urns. Unfortunately, because of the vast differences in quality of the artefacts found, they could not be dated. (Brown 1988: 47-48 and fig. 35)|
|Two-toned bowl, with crackled pale green and olive-brown glaze. From Northeast Thailand.
Mid- to late 11th C
Private collection. Photograph by Kim Retka
(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XVIII e)
|Two-toned gourd with eight single carved striations around the lower portion and flat disc-like foot. From Buriram province, Thailand.
Mid-11th to the beginning of the 12th C
(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XVIII c)
|Wasters of seven conical green-glazed bowls with firing scars and stacking balls of clay between bowls visible. From Northeast Thailand.
Late 11th C
H: 21 cm
(Photo source: Stock 1981: fig. 16)
|Covered box of ‘thistle-type’ shape. Grey body with black specks is covered in a brown glaze which pools in the incised areas of carved vertical lines. From Northeast Thailand
Late 11th C
H: 10 cm
(Photo source: Stock 1981: fig. 63)
|Storage jar with dark red-brown body covered in a dark olive-brown glaze, decorated with incised curved lines above a band of carved arches as well as bands of combed waves, incised rectangular and scalloped patterns on sides. From Northeast Thailand
H: 51 cm
(Photo source: Stock 1981: fig. 73)
|Zoomorphic limepot in the form of a rabbit, having a buff coloured body and a runny uneven black-brown glaze. From Northeast Thailand.
Second half 11th C
H: 11.5 cm
(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XXI d)
|Zoomorphic limepot in the shape of a ‘snow’ owl, the decorations carved rings and striations indicating an early 12th century date. From Northeast Thailand.
H: 8.2 cm
Private collection. Photograph by Kim Retka.
(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XXII e)