Thai ceramics were among the first Southeast Asian wares to be seriously studied, starting with WA Graham’s 1922 article “Pottery in Siam” in the Journal of the Siam Society. The field only gained momentum in the 1960s following Charles Nelson Spinks’ important contributions on Tai pottery and in the 1970s from the discovery of the Prasat Ban Phluang temple site.
Sankampaeng, in Northern Thailand, is located about 25km east of Chiangmai and 70km south-west of Kalong.
The site was discovered in 1952 by the Thai archaeologist Kraisri Nimmananhaeminda who also found an inscribed stone stele. Brown (1988: 86) tells us that the text “commemorates the establishment of a Buddhist pagoda in 1488, and speaks of a gift of 25 families of slaves.” Based on this, Nimmanahaeminda thought that potters were included among the slaves and hypothesised that the kilns of this area dated from this time.
|Inscribed stone pillar found near the Sankampaeng kilns in the ruins of Wat Chiangsaen; once kept in a courtyard at Wat Pa Tung, but now on display within the small museum there.
(Photo from: Brown 1988: fig 59)
However, the origin of these kilns can not be deduced from the stele. There are 83 kilns discovered in the area, of which only 7 have been excavated in 1970. These are in-ground kilns and are similar in structure to the Laotian kilns – small (only 2-4m long) and partly buried in the ground, while the top half is made of hardened earth and mixed with broken bricks. In shape, though, they are like other Thai cross-draft kilns, having an oval form with the firebox a step below the firing chamber. According to Nimmanahaeminda, similar kilns were being used at least until 20 years by Tai people still living in Yunnan province, China.Brown thinks that the site is “in no way connected with dispersed Sawankhalok potters”, but presents similarities with the Sawankhalok Mon tradition of jar shapes and the practice of stacking ‘scoop’ mouth plates face-to-face, foot rim-to-foot rim, as shown in the illustration below.
|Methods of kiln stacking at Sankampaeng
(Photo from: Brown 1988: fig. 45)The best-known wares of Sankampaeng are underglaze iron decorated plates and dishes, especially those with a pair of fish stamped in the centre of the wares, such as this plate below, which was found at the Tak Om Koi burial sites. The unglazed flat mouth-rim is similar to Phayao wares. The majority of the kiln sherds, says Brown, are “green-glazed, black-glazed, two-colour and unglazed vessels, especially jars, bottles, mortars, and basins in small and medium sizes.” Dishes, plates and bowls are also among the most common finds. Grit on the base of this plate indicates that it was set directly on the floor of the kiln for firing.