Crucible for melting metal

  • Earthenware
  • 5.6 x 11.7 x 8.8 cm
  • Ban Chiang culture
  • 2000 BCE-500 CE, Ban Chiang culture
  • Origin: Northeast Thailand
  • Provenance: Bangkok, Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.101


Small, irregularly shaped bowl with spout. Hand-formed. Unglazed.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 11 July 2002) The Hauges acquired this vessel as "Oc Eo."

2. (Louise Cort, 13 May 2005) The Hauges owned a copy of Malleret's 1960 publication on Oc Eo and employed it to confirm the pieces they acquired as "Oc Eo culture." It is important to note that Malleret acquired all his ceramic samples, except those that he excavated from Oc Eo, as surface finds located in the course of general surveys of other sites (Malleret 1960, 92).

Malleret summarized his vision of Oc Eo culture ceramics drawn from such surveys: "Ceramics held a considerable role in the material life of the ancient inhabitants of the Transbassac. Judging from the enormous mass of fragments that lie scattered under the sun in Oc Eo and occur in compact sheets at certain levels, one is inclined to think that the ceramic industry occupied an important place among their activities. In fact, it seems that one was in the presence of a city whose population had been dense and had deposited enormous accumulations of debris over several centuries. But pottery was not mixed solely into the domestic aspect, where it was manifest as stoves, as cooking pots, as diverse containers, as lamps, as rattles for infants. It had furnished containers and crucibles for metallurgists, net weights for fishermen, spindle-whorls for the preparation of thread from textile fibers, and perhaps also stamps for impressing patterns onto woven cloth.... It is possible that pottery served numerous additional offices in a commercial setting in a maritime location." He goes on to mention the probable roles of small-mouthed vessels for storage and transport of foodstuffs, including oils and salt; of straight-necked jars for holding liquids and creating an air-tight seal necessary for fermenting fish sauce (nuoc mam); of small, wide-mouthed vessels for domestic storage of materials in the kitchen, as well as for unguents, perfumes, medicines, cosmetics, and rouge (although they were easily portable and could have been commercial items). He proposes that ceramic containers, along with wooden ones, served to transport raw materials and finished products of the important industries of Oc Eo (including gold jewelry, glass and stone beads, bronze and tin metallurgy) (ibid., 92–93). He describes necks of large jars over forty centimeters in diameter, presumably used for storing rainwater (ibid., 94).

Malleret studied 291 whole objects and more than 2000 sherds (787 from systematic excavations). He found five types of earthenware body (ibid., 98–100, analysis in Appendix I, 353–357):
(I) unfired or very low fired, without sand (including crucibles and spindle-whorls);
(II) red clay containing considerable sand and mica, naturally occurring in the clay, which seemingly was used without adding additional temper, formed by hand or on the potter's wheel into fishnet weights, stoves, and lids for cooking pots. Even when the exterior is fired red or gray, the interior may retain the color of ochre earth. Some appear to have been slipped;
(III) red clay with added fine sand temper, possibly derived from ground laterite containing particles of limonite; worked by hand or on the wheel;
(IV) blackish clay containing little sand, blackened by firing in reduction, sometimes with burnished surface, worked by hand or on the wheel, found in the lowest levels beneath the brick monuments at Oc Eo;
(V) fine paste, sometimes hard but usually soft, of homogenous, well-processed texture, variously rose, salmon, gray, or yellowish in color, sometimes appearing to contain temper made from prefired and ground clay, used mainly for special products with a certain "artistic cachet."

In addition, (VI) much higher fired than the previous five types, like stoneware, showing a connection to glazed Khmer stoneware, suggesting a Khmer occupation level at Oc Eo.

Malleret, Louis. 1988. La civilisation matérielle d'Oc-Eo. L'Archéologie du Delta du Mékong, tome 2. Publications de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient, Vol. XLIII. Paris: l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient.

3. (Louise Cort, 18 October 2006) A vessel with deeply indented spout like this one was presented as a crucible for bronze casting by Charles Higham, reporting on his excavation at Ban Non Wat, near Phimai in Khorat province, Northeast Thailand, at the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeology meeting, 25 September 2006. He gave the dates for such objects in Ban Non Wat as 200 BCE–200 CE.

Changed Title from Crucible or lamp to Crucible.

4. (Louise Cort, 23 December 2011) In July 2009, Vince Pigott noted that this type of crucible is known from the prehistoric archaeological sites of Non Nok Tha, Ban Na Di, and Ban Chiang, in Northeast Thailand. (See Field Notes, object record in online catalogue.)

Joyce White and Elizabeth Hamilton illustrate a crucible of this form from Ban Chiang, describing it as an example of the "common Southeast Asian internally heated crucible type" (White and Hamilton 2009, fig. 3). They discuss bowls of this type as the "earliest, simplest, and apparently most widespread crucibles," which were used, "at least initially, for both smelting and melting of metal" (p. 365). Crucibles of this form were also found at a site in Central Thailand and appear to have been used in Dongson contexts in Vietnam and at Samrong Sen in Cambodia (pp. 365-6).

White, Joyce C. and Elizabeth G. Hamilton. 2009. The Transmission of Early Bronze Technology to Thailand: New Perspectives. Journal of World Prehistory 22:357-397.

The focus of the Hauges' collecting of prehistoric pottery on material from the Ban Chiang culture in Northeast Thailand makes it likely that this crucible came from a site in that region. If so, the source was a dealer in Bangkok. Probably the crucible became mixed in with the Oc Eo material over the years when the collection was with the Hauges.

Changed Period from Pre-Angkor period to Ban Chiang culture. Changed Date from 3rd-6th century to 2000 B.C.E.–500 C.E. Changed Culture from Oc Eo culture to Ban Chiang culture. Changed Origin from Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam to Northeast Thailand. Changed Provenance from Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam, to Bangkok, Thailand.

5. (Louise Cort, 23 February 2015) Crucibles of this type are documented in The Ban Chiang Metals Project Database,

field notes

Submit Comment 2 comments total

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | 2:58:15 PM | posted by: Louise Cort

Posted by: Vince Pigott.

The crucible is a shape typical of Ban Chiang Culture sites of NE Thailand—e.g., Ban Chiang and Ban Na Di, as well as the prehistoric copper mine that the Thailand Archaeometallurgy Project excavated there. The crucible sherds from Phu Lon (no intact crucibles found) date to ca. 1000 BCE and after. Crucibles of this type in NE Thailand are part of a shared technological tradition. This is evidenced by the fact that their interiors are lined with a finely crushed quartz clay slurry—a lagging, in metals-speak—which retards erosion of the crucible interior and improves refractory quality during high temperature activity.


Thursday, March 26, 2009 | 6:38:52 PM | posted by: Team LOMAP

This one looks like crucibles we excavated on the Thai Archaeometallurgical Project (1992, 1994) under Vince Pigott's direction. If so then it wouldn't necessarily be part of what the Vietnamese describe as "Oc Eo Culture" — parallels are seen elsewhere in mainland SE Asia that extend back to ca. 1800–1500 BCE at least.

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