eMuseum Southeast Asia Ceramics

Periods of Production

Periods of Production

Southeast Asian ceramics have been produced in the region since prehistoric days. Together with the National University of Singapore Press, the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society has already published a book on these early earthenwares.

This text in the following pages shows the beginning of local, regional production that coincides with two things:

1. The establishment of the great Southeast Asian civilisations such as Angkor, and hence the historic nature of these ceramics; and

2. The beginning of Southeast Asian mass production, and eventually regional trade.

Much remains to be done in terms of archaeology and research in the other areas, but the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society plans to include, in the future, pages from insular Southeast Asia and China, as well as a page on Shipwrecks.


 

Mainland SEA

By the term “Mainland Southeast Asia”, we refer to countries such as MyanmarThailandCambodia and Vietnam.

As for Laos, there is not enough research done in that area to warrant a section by itself. But we hope with this E-Museum, we may attract interest for studies in this field.

Abbreviations Used
BCE and CE: Before Common Era and Common Era correspond to the numbering system using the Before Christ/Anno Domini (BC/AD) notation, but avoids any religious connotation


100 BCE – Oldest known export ceramics come to Southeast Asia

Ceramics provide the earliest evidence for trade between Southeast Asia and its neighbours, India and China.

During the transitional period between prehistoric to historic times (around the first few centuries before and after our era), important types of pottery were made in India which archaeologists call Fine Wares. One of the best-known types is the Northern Black Polished Ware. Samples of this have been found at Khao Sam Kaeo, on the isthmus of the Thai-Malay peninsula (Bouvet 2006).

Fragments of Western Han unfired clay sealings were found in Go Cam, southeast of Hoi An, Vietnam, indicating contact with the Chinese to the North.

Photo from: Mariko Yamagata in Nguyen, Glover and Yamagata 2006: fig. 21.7)Sources: Nguyen, Glover and Yamagata 2006: 216-231; Miksic 2009: 72

1 CE to 200 CE – Romano-Indian Rouletted Ware from India comes to Southeast Asia

Another type of earthenware made in southern India in the 1st and 2nd centuries is known as Romano-Indian Rouletted Ware because it was made in India by craftsmen imitating the Roman decorative technique of rouletting. It has been found at Chansen, central Thailand; at Khao Sam Kaeo; at the southern tip of Vietnam where lay the kingdom known to the Chinese as Funan; further north in coastal Vietnam at Tra Kieu near Danang;and can be found as far east as Bali (Bouvet 2006: 366 and sources cited there).

These two fragments of Indian rouletted ware were found at the Batu Jaya temple complex, east of Jakarta in northwest Java, Indonesia.(Photo from: P-Y Manguin in Manguin & Indrajaya 2006: fig. 23.12)

However, like the Northern Black Polished Ware from India and the Han ceramics from China,none of these three wares were major trade commodities.

As indicators of trade links, however, they are valuable; they are one of the few types of evidence which can survive burial in the ground for thousands of years.

Sources: Manguin & Indrajaya 2006: 245-257; Miksic 2009: 72


802 CE – Traditional founding date of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The foundation date of the civilisation of Angkor is taken from inscriptions found at the site.

880 CE – Green-glazed ceramics at Roluos

Roluos was a temple complex and probably a royal capital for most of the 9th century, before major construction began at Angkor (Cambodia). It was originally known as Hariharalaya, “Place of Siva and Vishnu”, a royal capital which predated Angkor. There, archaeologists found glazed tiles, bowls and small bottles. (Miksic 2009: 51, 54)

This 11th-century specimen is an obus-shaped finial, placed on the roof ridge of structures, with a watery green glaze. Other examples are visible in the Bayon reliefs at Angkor, built from the 12th-13th centuries.
H: 22 cm, D: 9.3 cmNUS Museum S2003-0003-259-0

880 CE -Khmer glazed ceramics made during the reign of Indravarman or Yasovarman

Cambodia was the first Southeast Asian country in which kilns producing glazed pottery were discovered. This was in an area about 40km to the north-east of Angkor, on the hills of Phnom Kulen.

“The Khmers were the first people other than the Chinese to master the technique of producing pottery fired at a temperature hot enough to melt the surfaces of the clay particles, a process known as sintering. As a result of this technical feat, the Khmer could produce stoneware, literally as hard as stone. This type of ceramic is not only hard; it also is much less porous than low-fired earthenware. The surface of stoneware can be made even more impervious by coating it with glaze, literally a form of glass, with almost unlimited aesthetic and hygienic possibilities.” (Miksic 2009: 50)

This bottle was found at the Srah Srang burial site and dates to the 10th century (Miksic 2009: 103). It was buried after being rendered useless by breaking off the neck (Groslier 1981: 14) in a ritual the meaning of which remains unknown. The green glaze is made from wood ash.H: 15.7 cm, D: 15 cm

NUS Musuem S1988-0283-001-0


880 CE – Approximate date of the Thnal Mrech Kiln No. 1, Cambodia

Found on the hills of Phnom Kulen (Cambodia), this kiln may have been associated with long-term ceramic production, throughout the Angkor period.

In ceramic studies, the term ‘Kulen’ is used to refer to “all yellowish- to greenish-glazed Khmer ceramics”. This thin watery glaze is probably “derived from wood ash with the appropriate iron content” (Brown 1988: 43)

(Photo from: Chhay Rachna, APSARA)

950 CE – Approximate date of Bang Kong kiln site, near Roluos, Cambodia 

Excavated only recently in 2008, the complex of kilns at this site is possibly older than the Thnal Mrech kilns (Cambodia), with radiocarbon dates of 943 to 975 CE. (Miksic 2009: 54)


Early 11th Century – Approximate date of the Thnal Mrech Kiln No. 2, Cambodia

“Thnal Mrech Kiln (Cambodia) No. 2 is one of the biggest kilns yet found in the Angkor region. The builders modified the slope of a pre-existing artificial dike to construct the floor, firebox and base of the kiln wall. The superstructure, including a putative chimney, disappeared long ago. Five radiocarbon dates prove that [it] was in use in the early 11th century.” (Miksic 2009: 53-54)

General view of the Thnal Mrech Kiln 2, Phnom Kulen, Cambodia
(Photo from: Miksic, Chhay Rachna et al 2007)

1030CE to 1060CE – Prasat Ban Phluang, northeast Thailand and associated ceramics

Prasat Ban Phluang is a Khmer Hindu temple located in north-eastern Thailand.

During the 11th century, this area was under Khmer rule. Roxanna Brownand another archaeologist, Vance Childress, examined the approximately 4000 glazed sherds of pottery that were found when the temple was being restored in the 1970s. More information can be found in Brown’s 1978 article in the arts journal, Arts of Asia.

This baluster jar with a foot shown above 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)

Mid 11th Century – Lead-glazed plaques used on temples in Bagan, Myanmar

From the Dhammayazika temple in Bagan, this is a lead-glazed ceramic tile depicting the Dhamma Jataka* from the previous lives of the Buddha. Such items were decorative but also functional, both in the educational sense (with the stories of the Buddha they told) and in the architectural sense (to protect the structure from inclement weather).* A jataka is a story or a parable of the Buddha’s past lives, and contains within it instructions on how to lead a worthy life.

Very little is known of the production sites near this ancient capital in Myanmar, but it is “probable that the practice of producing glazed plaques began at some point during Bagan’s golden age during the 11th to 13th centuries” (Miksic 2009: 67).

Other scholars state that Burmese glazed ware tradition “could go as far back as the 7th century” as the word kalathapura, meaning “pot-making region” was “found in more than four places of a fragmentary inscription” (Myo Thant Tyn & U Thaw Kaung 2003: 291).


1080 CE to 1107 CE – Srah Srang burials, Angkor, Cambodia

Another example of this double gourd-shaped bottle with anthropomorphic features has been found at the Srah Srang (Cambodia) burial site. It was at this time that this specific form emerged and its find location indicates that it was intended for funerary rituals.

Brown glaze, orangey clay with cord-cut base11th-13th C

H: 12 cm, D: 8 cm

NUS Museum S2003-0001-024-0


1200 CE – Production of fine Khmer ceramics ceases

Possibly an after-effect of the fall of Angkor (Cambodia) to Champa forces in 1177 (Brown 1988:53).


1292 CE – Traditional date of the Ram Khamheng inscription no. 1

Legend that has it that Ram Khamheng brought Chinese potters to his kingdom on his return from the second of two embassies he is said to have led in person to the Yuan court in Beijing. It was then that Sukhothai (Thailand) was established, along with a large ceramic production centre, in north central Thailand. (Miksic 2009: 49)

1296 CE – Mission of Zhou Daguan to Angkor, Cambodia

From Miksic 2009: 76-77:

“In 1296 Angkor had just been dealt a military blow by Sukhothai, and its ruler had recently died. […] A Mongol mission arrived with the goal of persuading (or threatening) the new ruler to send tribute. One member of the ambassador’s suite, Zhou Daguan, left the most detailed description of ancient Angkor to have survived: Zhenla fengtu ji, ‘Description of Cambodia’, written in 1297. Zhou spent half a year at Angkor, but his mission was not mainly concerned with trade, and his report contains relatively little information on the subject. Cambodia was not an important trading country. Still, Zhou (2001: 63) gives some basic commercial information about Chinese goods wanted by Cambodians, which included: gold and silver, silk, tin, lacquered trays, and green porcelain from Quanzhou and Chuzhu (in the Longquan region, a large-scale centre of celadon production during the Yuan Dynasty). He noted (ibid.: 81) that ‘To serve rice, they use Chinese earthenware or copper trays’. What he meant by ‘Chinese earthenware’ is not clear; perhaps he meant ‘ceramics, pottery’.

Ceramics can provide material for the study of Angkor’s economy and social organisation. Chinese ceramics have been discovered at several sites around Angkor, but little information regarding their types, distribution or frequency has been published. In this respect, however, Angkor is not unusual. With few exceptions, very little quantitative data on the distribution of early Chinese ceramics is available for any sites in Southeast Asia.”


1300 CE – Kalong kilns founded, northern Thailand

The Kalong (Thailand) kilns were discovered in 1933, but still unstudied in 1977 when Brown wrote her Master’s thesis on the Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification.

A common characteristic of the Kalong kilns is their “fine-grained whitish body, the clay source of which may have been one reason for the location of the kilns” and the reason for the high quality of the Kalong ware, which considered by many to be the finest of all Thai ceramics. The wares are finely potted throughout and another feature is that they generally have wide bases. (Brown 1988: 84-86)

Kalong is best known for its underglaze black motifs, though potters there also made monochromes of celadon, black, brown and even green lead-glaze. This bowl with an underglaze black decoration shows a dark brown design of abstract birds or bats, sometimes known as the “black crow” design.14th-16th C

H: 5 cm, D: 21 cm

Private collection

Brown identifies a monochrome unique to Kalong, called the “rain-cloud grey” which is a translucent greyish tinted glaze (Brown 1988: 86). This jarlet with ring handles is an exceptional specimen showing the “rain-cloud grey” lead glaze.H: 12.5 cm, D: 10 cm

Private collection

Kalong kiln wasters. From this picture, we can see that within a kiln, different types of monochromes were fired at the same time, ranging from the rain-grey to near celadons.
Private collection

1300 BCE – Sukhothai glazed wares in full production by this time, north central Thailand

Some of the earliest known wares from Sukhothai (Thailand) had black, brown and green wood-ash glazes, leading researchers to postulate a possible transfer of technology from the Khmers who used the same type of glazing (Brown 1988: 57), although this is not certain.

According to Brown (1988: 67), there are four types of Sukhothai wares:

  • unglazed stonewares
  • unglazed earthenwares
  • monochrome whites, and
  • underglaze iron black or brown decorated, for which these kilns are famous.
This example represents one of the most renowned types of Sukhothai wares: the underglaze black fish motif. Although there are no clear sources of inspiration for the earliest depictions of fish and flowers drawn in black (Miksic 2009: 63), such decorated wares can be found in abundance at several different sites in Southeast Asia, for example at the Tak Om Koi burial site along the Thai-Burma border.15th C

H: 8 cm, D: 25.7 cm

NUS Museum S0001-0066-001-0

Another example of the fish motif. A kiln stacker with five spurs has been stuck to the base of this plate during firing.15th C

H: 7.8 cm, D: 18 cm

NUS Museum S1972-18-1

A plate decorated with fish and additional vegetal scrolls probably represents an evolution in the design. Closer examination of the plate shows a grainy, light grey-brownbiscuit containing whitish granules. This is another characteristic ofSukhothai ware, making it easily recognisable. (Miksic 2009: 63, Brown 1988: 68-69)15th C

H: 6.4 cm, D: 26.3 cm

NUS Museum S1969-0036-001-01

Another favoured motif of Sukhothai ware was dubbed “sunburst”, as seen on this bowl’s interior. Again,the foot shows a brown biscuitcontaining whitish particles. Similar bowls were recovered from the Xuande and Singtai wrecks (see for example Brown & Sjostrand 2003: colour plate 79).15th-16th C

H: 6.2 cm, D: 14.4 cm

NUS, S1967-0042-001-0

Sukhothai ware is also present in the Turiang shipwreck in large numbers, along with Chinese and Vietnamese wares, indicating that Thai ceramics were likely exported at an early date (the wreck is dated to between 1304 and 1440). (Flecker in Miksic 2009: 42)


1351 CE – Sawankhalok wares with underglaze iron decoration, north central Thailand

The term Sawankhalok covers the production of many hundreds of kilns of central Thailand. It is frequently used interchangeably with the term “Si Satchanalai”, but refers to a wider area not covered by specific Si Satchanalai kilns. For more information about these specific kilns of Si Satchanalai, see the map spot “Si Satchanalai”.

Sawankhalok was in full production by the mid-1300s. The kilns produced:

  • Unglazed wares;
  • Monochrome white, black, brown, celadon, and olive wares;
  • Brown glaze with incised decoration inlaid with white; and
  • Underglaze iron decorated wares.

Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai clay is finer than Sukhothai clay and has many small black spots, due to the high iron content of the clay. Sometimes, the inclusions can be red or silver coloured. Like Sukhothai, Sawankhalok mainly created relatively simple shapes – jars, bottles, kendis, bowls and plates.

The earliest Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai wares included dishes decorated with underglaze iron depictions of flowers in the bases, with fish on the cavettos, and specimens of the flowers and fish design have been found on the Turiang shipwreck, dated to around 1370.

Second half of the 14th century. From the Tak Om Koi burial sites.D: 26.5 cm

Collection of Robert R. Charles. Photograph by Kim Retka

(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XXIX a)

The covered box (below left) is representative of early Sawankhalok ware with its form, its underglaze iron and its decoration of vine scrolls. A later production (below right) has a fish-scale motif. On both boxes, the unglazed foot shows a light grey coloured biscuit with black particles and a pontil scar on the underside. The clay and the tubular support mark on the base are two things which identify Sawankhalok wares. Si Satchanalai covered boxes have been found in abundance at sites in Okinawa, which functioned as a gateway for Southeast Asian exports to the Japanese islands during the period of Ming isolationism.

Covered box with vine motif

15th C

H: 7.4 cm, D: 9.5 cm

NUS Museum S1955-0255-001-0

Covered box with no handle, fish-scale motif

15th-16th C

H: 9.2 cm, D: 12.8 cm

NUS Museum S1967-0028-001-0

Classic scrolls with spiky leaves resembling those on Yuan wares decorated with cobalt blue probably originated before 1350, such as on this jar with underglaze iron black decoration. The colour is actually black and not blue, as cobalt was not a mineral that the Thai potters used, even though mines were found as near as Yunnan in southern China in the early 15th century (Brown 1988: 76). This is unlike the Vietnamese production, which used cobalt for its underglaze blue decoration that became popular from the 15th century on.

15th-16th C

H: 11.7 cm, D: 12.2 cm

NUS Museum S1980-0082-001-0

Kendi with underglaze iron black decoration with oatmeal-coloured biscuit and a distinct pontil scar. Examples have been found in Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Bali; they are however rare in the Philippines and Sulawesi (Guérin & van Oenen 2005: 158).

15th-16th C

H: 14.2 cm, D: 16cm

NUS Museum S1954-0054-001-0

The majority of Sawankhalok kendis had mammiform spouts as the image above shows, but special shapes were also made, such as the kendi below. Sawankhalok celadon appeared around 1400, but excavations of the kiln sites have provided little help as to the chronology as they have been severely disturbed.

This celadon angsa-shaped (from the Sanskrit word for “goose”) ewer is a form commonly used by the Thai, and made for export. Many variations on the form exist, and they were made in brown and black underglaze painted versions, monochrome white, and celadon. The goose was the vehicle of the god Brahma in Hindu mythology.

14th-15th C

H: 10.3 cm, L: 12.6 cm, W: 7.8 cm

NUS Museum S2003-0001-036-0

Roxanna Brown and her colleague Sten Sjostrand (2003: 35–37), an expert in maritime archaeology, put together information from shipwrecks to construct a chronology of Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai wares. Among the first Thai exports were underglaze iron painted designs, mostly of flowers and fish. Miksic (2009: 63-64) sums it up thus:

“The Turiang shipwreck, dated approximately 1370, carried Si Satchanalai plates decorated with underglaze iron-painted designs of simple flowers and fish, but the Nanyang (c. 1380), Longquan (c. 1400) and Royal Nanhai (c. 1460) included Sawankhalok celadon plates. These green plates were major Thai exports until the late 15th century; on shipwrecks of the Hongzhi period, beginning in 1488, they are replaced by celadons from Burma, although Sawankhalok celadon bowls and ring-handle jars continue to appear into the early 16th century.”

Some examples of the great variety of forms, decorations and colours of Sawankhalok celadons are shown below.

Celadon stem-dish, or tazza (“phan” in Thai), with incised décor of a central chrysanthemum motif enclosed by circular bands

14th to late 15th C

H: 12.9 cm, D: 34.6 cm

NUS Museum S1968-0021-002-0

Celadon dish with a foliate rim, the cavetto with a combed “onion-skin” pattern and the centre medallion with a lotus. The motif on the cavetto was commonly employed on the larger Sawankhalok celadon dishes and bowls. The biscuit is an orangey-pink, probably from oxydisation of the clay, and the base has traces of a very large pontil.

15th C

D: 26 cm

NUS Museum S2003-0022-014-0

Celadon bowl with everted mouth-rim (“scoop mouth”) and incised decoration. The biscuit is reddish in colour, but grey within the pontil scar.

15th C

H: 10 cm, D: 27 cm

NUS Musuem S1955-0002-001-0

Miniature gourd-shaped celadon jarlet with ring-handles and minimal decoration of incised circular bands

15th C

H: 8.9 cm, D: 6.3 cm

NUS Museum S1969-0128-001-0

Pear-shaped celadon bottle with ring-handles broken off and incised circular bands as decoration

C 1350–1500

H: 18.5 cm, D: 16 cm

NUS Museum S1954-0056-001-0

Globular ring-handled celadon bottle

15th C

H: 16 cm, D: 16 cm

NUS Museum S1967-0030-001-0

As mentioned before, Sawankhalok also produced monochromes in other colours, notably black as well as brown, such as in the two examples below. There was continuity in forms even as glazes changed. These were probably produced for another market, and examplesre found on the Turiang, dated to around 1370 (see Brown & Sjostrand 2003: colour plate 16).

15th C

H: 17.5 cm, D: 19 cm

NUS Museum S1967-0025-001-0

Unknown date

H: 13.3 cm, D: 7.3 cm

NUS Museum S1967-0038-001-0-9

Monochrome white fragment from a guardian figure (yaksha) with modelled features, the eyes and eyebrows emphasised with iron-black pigment

15th-16th C

H: 13 cm, W: 15.5 cm

NUS Museum S1954-0075-001-0

In the final period of Sawankhalok wares, underglaze black covered boxes make a reappearance, while celadons disappear. They can be found on the shipwrecks of the Zhengde (1505–21) and Jiajing (1522–66) periods, and are the main decorative elements of Sawankhalok production until it ceased around 1584 (Brown 2004: 7).

Miksic (2009: 93) concludes:

“In the Philippines, Sawankhalok ceramics are found in large numbers at certain 14th-15th century sites such as Calatagan (Fox 1959). On mainland Southeast Asia, Thai ceramics from Sawankhalok have been found at Angkor, where they postdated 1350, based on Groslier’s observations at the royal palace site in Angkor. Whereas Vietnamese ceramics seem to have been exported in two distinct periods, separated by a gap of some years, Thai ceramics seem to have continued more or less interruptedly from around 1400 until the late 16th century.”

Sources: Brown 1988, 2004; Rooney 1989; Miksic 2009; www.maritimeasia.ws


Late 14th – Founding of Twante kilns, Myanmar

In 1988, when Roxanna Brown wrote the second edition of her Master’s thesis, Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification, very little was known of Burmese production and, until recently, Myanmar was thought to be devoid of old glazed ceramics.

The Tak Om Koi burials brought attention to possible production sites in that region. Some exceptional discoveries, apart from those already mentioned (see 1350), were several green-and-white wares, whose shapes and decoration became more and more fascinating with every find.

This was corroborated by the discovery of ceramics found in 1998 at the kiln sites of Twante (southwest of Yangon) and Lagunbyee (an hour’s drive north of Yangon). Archaeologists noted that the glazing and clay body of these finds were similar to those found at Tak Om Koi. The glazes all contained lead, which requires a lower temperature of heating than other forms of glaze.

This dish is of typical Twante confection, a green-and-white glazed earthenware. Brown postulates a Middle Eastern influence on its production: the green lead glazed colour, the decorative design with its emphasis on rondels and the high-fired earthenware.15th C

H: 6.3 cm, D: 29.5 cm

Private collection

Green-and-white bowl

15th C

H: 8 cm, D: 18.5 cm

Private collection

Sources: Brown 1988: 99-112; Miksic 2009: 66-67


1435 CE – First reference to ceramic production at Bat Trang, Vietnam

When Roxanna Brown published her MA thesis in 1977, the only known kiln site in north Vietnam was Bat Trang, 10km southeast of Hanoi.

The name Bat Trang first appears in 1352. The first reference to ceramic production here is dated 1435. Bat Trang ceramics were sent to China as tribute in the 15th century (Long 1995: 87). Local legend credits the foundation of the Bat Trang kilns to three Vietnamese scholars who went to China on a diplomatic mission during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1126). There, they visited a ceramic factory in Guangdong, and brought back technical knowledge. Bat Trang potters thus learned how to make white glaze from one scholar, while another taught how to make red glaze, and a third taught dark yellow glaze to a third region (Phan Huy Lê, Nguyen Chién & Nguyen Quang Ngoc 1995: 48).

In the 16th and 17th centuries, many pieces made at Bat Trang attest to the revival of Buddhism in Vietnam during that period. Brown records the development of several kiln sites in the 15th and 16th centuries the main products of which were censers* for altars (Brown 1977: 22–23). These censers were produced at the Bat Trang kiln complex, in Gia Lam District, a part of the Hanoi region, along with other wares.

*A censer is a container in which incense is burned and used typically during a religious ceremony.

Bat Trang clay is reddish, as can be seen from this censer on which the cream and green glazing does not entirely cover the body. This form of ceramic is typical of both the kiln site and the period.Eleven such incense burners with inscriptions of the 17th century are known. The three-part structure of the larger incense burner in the collection is similar to that of an inscribed artefact in Vietnam dated 1637 (Nguyen, 1999: 167).Early 17th C (?)

H: 34cm; D: 24cm

NUS Museum S1999-0009-045-0

Sources: Brown 1988: 13-35; Miksic 2009: 58, 60-61, 91


1450 CE – Inscribed Vietnamese vase made by a woman named Bui, exported to Turkey

Sometime during the 15th century, the technique of blue underglaze on a white background was introduced to Vietnam, most likely via the Ming invasion of the country in 1407. It was also during this time (between 1405 and 1433) that the famous admiral Zheng He made his legendary voyages.

With the introduction of cobalt, the precious mineral used in the blue decorations, the underglaze iron black and monochrome wares quickly began to disappear. According to Brown, the blue initially replaced “underglaze iron in decoration and on shapes that remain unchanged” from the 14th century, then “more Chinese motifs such as lotus panels, lotus scrolls, some zoomorphic motifs, cloud collars, and bands of overlapping petals” started to become more popular. (Brown 1988: 25)

In addition, “sometimes the blue even occurs on the same piece along with underglaze iron, thus providing evidence that both wares were produced simultaneously at least for some time”, such as on this example below, where the underglaze blue chrysanthemum flower in the centre is encircled by two rings of underglaze black.

Late 14th to early 15th C D: 14cm

Lammers Collection

(Photo from: Brown 1988: pl. VI c)

Potters of Bat Trang included both males and females, sometimes husbands and wives together. This is shown by a tradition in which potters signed some of their works.

In the 15th century one potter, a woman, inscribed her surname (Bui) on her work. This is the famous vase dated 1450, now located in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul. According to several sources, the inscription indicates the potter was female (Brown 1988: 28 and footnote 22). (Miksic 2009: 60-61)

H: 54 cm

(Photo from: Brown 1988: pl. X)


1450 CE – Export of Cham ceramics from Go-Sanh, central Vietnam

Go-Sanh, literally “pottery mound”, is located in the Binh Dinh province of central Vietnam. In pre-modern times this was the realm of the Cham people, a Malayo-Polynesian speaking group who established a number of important kingdoms, and were feared adversaries of the Khmer and Vietnamese before they were gradually subdued in the 15th century.

The ceramics from Go-Sanh can be divided into three categories. The first consists of greenish or blueish-grey glazed saucers with unglazed stacking rings on their interior bottoms, such as this example here. The greyish clay on the unglazed interior also helps identify this piece as belonging to this kiln site.

H: 4.4 cm, D: 16.6 cm

NUS Museum S1968-0028-001-0

Celadon dishes make up the second category and have a similar type of clay, visible on the unglazed foot of this beaker-shaped bowl. The celadon glaze has been eroded over time, but some of the colour is still visible where the glaze has pooled on the uneven surface.

15th C (or earlier)

H: 7.2 cm; D: 11.8 cm

NUS Museum S1966-0007-001-0

The final category comprises of brown-glazed vessels of various shapes and tend to have an orangey to reddish-brown clay. This clay is surprisingly light in weight, and can be seen on the unglazed bottom half of this jarlet. The brown glaze has mostly flaked off but a grey slip is visible underneath it.

14th-15th C

H: 8 cm, D: 8 cm

NUS Museum S1980-0161-001-0

Decoration is generally rare on Binh Dinh wares, except for large brown-glazed storage jars which sometimes have incised or moulded appliqué motifs.

Sources: Brown 1988: 36-39; Miksic 2009: 61-62


1450 CE – Cardamom Cave burials, Cambodia

(Photo from: http://allanmichaud.wordpress.com/)From Miksic 2009: 56:

“In 2000, large jars were discovered in caves in the Cardamom Mountains in western Cambodia, in association with 15th-century Chinese and Thai ceramics.Although their precise origin is uncertain, their shapes and production techniques indicate that some Khmer potters continued to create new glazed ceramic shapes until at least the mid-15th century.

[One of the sites] contained approximately 60 intact jars and a significant amount of sherds. Several jars were of probable Chinese origin; one brown-glazed Chinese stoneware jar about 45cm high bore the character stamp bao (meaning treasure or precious). Almost all jars were of the same type, approximately 50cm high, with a flaring mouth, and no decoration except for shoulder lugs and incised horizontal lines under a watery dark green glaze. The glaze stops short of the foot; the exposedbiscuit of the body is burned a purplish-red. This type of jar is not well-known in the archaeological literature. They resemble ceramics produced at the Cheung Ek site, near Phnom Penh (Phon Kaseka pers com 25/7/2006; see also Kaseka 2006). A stack of bowls consisted of 12 green-glazed porcelains of the typical Si Satchanalai type made in Thailand in the 15th century. Another bore a double vajra[lightning] motif in cobalt blue on a white background, typical of Chinese ceramics of the mid-15th century (Lam 2001).”


1460 CE – Celadon at Twante, Myanmar

According to Myo Thant Tyn and Dawn Rooney (2001), a complex in Myanmar that made celadon for export was discovered in 1999. However, very little is known of the origin of these pieces, some of which were found at the Tak Om Koi burial site as well as on the Pandanan shipwreck. (Miksic 2009:66-67)

Brown says they comprise “mostly simple bowls and plates as well as small- and medium-sized bottles and jars, many of the latter with two vertical squarish handles made of think lumps of clay first applied to the pot and then pierced with a relatively small, round perforation.” She adds that “few of the pieces have decoration, and when they do, it is only simple incised rings, especially round plate wells and mouth-rims, reminiscent of those sometimes seen on Phan and Wang Nua plates although other potting features do not match.” (1988: 105)


1460 CE – Lead-glazed plates at Lagunbyee, Myanmar

Lagunbyee is located in a rice-growing area between Yangon and Bago (Myanmar), where over a hundred kiln sites were discovered. The site includes a complex of earthen walls and moats, and “is believed to have been a large settlement from the period before the 15th century. An excavation by Burmese archaeologists at this site in January 1999 yielded both lead-glazed white wares and much paddle-marked earthenware. Shapes included plates and large jars (Thaw Kaung 2003).” (Miksic 2009: 67)

This plate is characteristically Burmese in type, shape and glazing. Made of high-fired earthenware, it is coated in a particular off-white lead-glazed glaze that has no other decoration except for incised circles on the interior centre.Burma

16th-17th C

H: 5 cm, D: 26.6 cm

Private collection

Sources: Brown 1988: 104-106; Miksic 2009: 67; Myo Thant Tyn & U Thaw Kaung 2003: 295


1558 CE – Demise of Sawankhalok kilns, north central Thailand

The Burmese invasion followed through toward central Thailand in the 1560s and they even managed to hold on to the capital of Siam, Ayutthaya, for some time. It was around that time that the making of celadon and underglaze decorated ceramics vanished. This seems to be confirmed through the decreasing quantities of Thai export trade wares found throughout Southeast Asia from the mid-16th century onwards, until they disappear completely by the beginning of the 17th century. (Brown 1988: 58, 65, 76)

This kendi probably represents one of the last export Sawankhalok wares to be found in Thailand, but also in Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Bali in Indonesia. They are, however, rare in the Philippines and Sulawesi. (Guérin and van Oenen 2005: 158)

The majority of Sawankhalok kendis had mammiform spouts, and although this kendi looks to be decorated in blue, it is actually an iron black underglaze, fired to a bluish tinge.15th-16th C

H: 14.2 cm, D: 16cm

NUS Museum S1954-0054-001-0

It is difficult to set a fixed chronology of Sawankhalok and Sukhothai wares as the whole areas where the kilns are have been disturbed over the centuries by villages and looters.


1610 CE – Potters at Imari in Japan begin production of Hizen ware

In the mid-17th century, internal political strife in China reduced the quantity of export porcelain, thus leaving a gap for Japanese Hizen Ware to fill. Not only was there a market in Japan, but also in Southeast Asia. Under the Tokugawa Shogunate, only Chinese junks and Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) vessels were allowed to trade in Nagasaki. It was thus these ships that carried Hizen Ware to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Manila.

Imari wares produced included both cobalt blue and celadon colours. Another unusual decorative scheme was a combed design of dark brown lines on an off white background. Some fancy overglaze enamels utilised red and gold on underglaze blue. These were also exported to Europe. (Miksic 2009: 86)

Imari plateArita, Japan

18th C

(Photo from: Georges Le Gars from Imari: faïences et porcelaines du Japon, de Chine, et d’Europe, Paris: Massin, 2004: 95)

Sources: Takenori Nogami 2006 and 2008


1735 CE – 1758 CE – Bencharong appears, Thailand

Bencharong (Thailand) ware is named from the Sanskrit pancha for “five” and rong for “colour”, although the number of colours on an actual piece would vary from five to eight. They come in two varieties: famille verte(consisting of green, red, yellow, blue, black, purple, brown, turquoise) and famille rose (pink, blue, violet, black, red, yellow). The latter palette is used in both the cup and plate shown here, and both have a floral motif.

Cup with cover19th-20th C

H: 12 cm, D: 7.8 cm

NUS Museum S1955-0219-001-0

Large dish with peony motif19th-20th C

H: 6.4 cm, D: 36.3 cm

NUS Museum S1955-0266-001-0

Bencharong ware consisted mainly of food and cosmetic containers decorated in overglaze enamels. It was probably made in China for the Thai market, and particularly for the exclusive use of Thai royalty in the mid-18th century. It is said that it was first ordered by MahaT’ammaraja (reign 1733-1758), then king of Ayutthaya (B Harrisson 1995: 70–2).

In comparison with similar ware from a Norwegian collection that Rose Kerr (of the Victoria & Albert Museum) had catalogued, she learnt that some of the pieces were made in China, while others were enamelled in Thailand. There exists three different types of bodies for bencharong ware and some of them have underglaze blue painting. This led to a hypothesis that the ceramics were exported naked and then coloured in Thailand.

Sources: Miksic 2009: 94; Dawn F Rooney’s Cultural Archive

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