Pot for palm sugar

  • Earthenware
  • 6.2 x 12 cm
  • Muang Phet ware
  • 19th-mid 20th century, Bangkok period
  • Origin: Muang Phet kilns, Phetchaburi province, Thailand
  • Provenance: Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.118


Small rounded-bottom vessel with everted rim and paddle-impressed pattern on walls and base. Hand-formed, using a paddle carved with straight parallel lines, and an anvil.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 12 June 2003) The Hauges acquired vessels of this type as "Oc Eo." They knew a Vietnamese military officer stationed in the Mekong delta area; he recovered pots from the swampy margins of rivers during the low-water season. Such pots were said to be "from Oc Eo."

2. (Louise Cort, 26 April 2005) Two "bowls" of this type are in the collection of the Anthropology Department, American Museum of Natural History, New York (acc. no. 70.2/6384 [h. 6.0 cm, d. 12.0 cm] and 6385 [h. 4.0 cm; d. 10.0 cm]). They are reported to have come from Vinh Long province, Oc Eo. The collector was C. P. Scheid of McLean, Virginia, who (according to correspondence with the AMNH, provided by Dr. Laurel Kendall), lived in South Vietnam for some time before 1969 (date of the correspondence) and collected archaeological materials in the Mekong Delta.

According to Scheid, the Oc Eo objects he collected were "inadvertently recovered by local peasants while plowing the fields at the Oc-Eo site of during the excavation of ponds for fish culture. He purchased the material directly from several peasants residing at the Oc-Eo site."

3. (Louise Cort, 26 April 2005) A pot of this type in a private collection is published in Heidi Tan 2003, figs. IV-9 and IV-10 (base, mistakenly described as "stamped"). She records information from a Vietnamese archaeologist, Vo Si Khai, that many such vessels have been found in An Giang province and the coastal areas near Ho Chi Minh City, and that they sometimes contain traces of lime.

Tan, Heidi. 2003. "Remarks on the Pottery of Oc Eo". Pp. 107–118 in Art & archaeology of Fu Nan: pre-Khmer kingdom of the Lower Mekong Valley, edited by James C. M. Khoo. Bangkok and Singapore: Orchid Press and the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society.

4. (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.

5. (Louise Cort, 16 May 2005) Malleret (1960) published three vessels of this type as possibly crucibles used by glass workers (creusets d'artisans du verre); he classified them as his Type 7 among various vessels identified as crucibles (drawings, pl. XXI; text 137–138; photo pls. LV, 1, 3, Pl. LIX, 1). Two of the vessels were from Oc Eo, nos. 4818 and 3861, although he noted that vessels of this type ware not abundant there. The third example had been collected by M. O. Janse at the Cambodian prehistoric archaeological site of Samron Sen (current spelling Samrong Sen), and it contained a black vitreous mass that Malleret identified as black glass, giving rise to his proposal that such vessels were used by glass workers. (Malleret stated his belief that the example found at Samrong Sen was a later introduction that postdated the archaeological site and was modeled on the vessel type from Oc Eo.)

He described the clay of the two Oc Eo vessels as containing much fine, red sand, interspersed with fragments of muscovite and flakes of gold or silver. The Samrong Sen example was identical in workmanship but its clay body differed.  He correctly described the vessels as having been formed with a carved paddle.

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.

6. (Louise Cort, 23 May 2007) The Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, has a pot of this type (BTLS 9982) recovered from the Ong Yem River, near Ho Chi Minh City.

7. (Louise Cort, 23 May 2007) In the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, is a group of ceramics excavated in Cai Lay district, Tien Giang province, in the Mekong Delta. They include an unglazed jar (see S2005.141) as well as several types of wares acquired by the Hauges as "Oc Eo," based on Malleret's identification:  a round bottle with short neck and horizontal bands of alternating straight and wavy combing covering the upper half of the body (see S2004.213–223), a tall slender jar with rounded body and lugs applied over two incised bands just below the wide mouth (see S2004.208), a small wheel-thrown wide-mouth bowl with thick rolled rim (see S2004.153–156), and four small, paddle-shaped wide-mouth earthenware pots (see S2004.113–122).

Mrs. Dao mentioned that paddle-formed bowls of this type were found in the Long An excavation, which is dated 7th–9th century.

8. (Louise Cort, 28 May 2007) The ceramics storeroom of the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa contains ceramics recovered within the province, primarily from the Dong Nai River, especially in the vicinity of Bien Hoa. The collection includes two earthenware vessels (small, but larger than this vessel) that bore similar "comb"-like markings impressed by the paddle used to shape them, with vertical teeth-like hatching and a perpendicular bar, of the same scale as appears on this vessel. One pot was large enough to bear two rows of such marking on the body; the other bore three rows, with plain hatching used on the base. A third pot, larger again, bore this type and scale of paddle-impressed marking in a single band around the shoulder just below the neck and on the base; the shoulder was impressed with a pattern of cross-hatching in coarse scale. The body of the pot was gray. These suggest the possibility of a "family" of earthenware pots of different sizes and shapes made using the same paddle.

The collection also includes about a dozen vessels of this type. The vice-director said that they could be used for a dish called ca kho—fish cooked with salt and nuoc mam—in a portion for one or two people.

9. (Louise Cort, 7 June 2007) A dealer in Hoi An, Quang Nam province, displayed a slightly taller vessel of this type, with two rows of parallel-groove paddle-marking on the side (h. 7.0 cm, diam. base 12.0 cm, diam. mouth 9.5 cm) and described it as "Sa Huynh" (associated with the first century CE site in southern Quang Ngai province). The vessel was very heavy for its size. The body appeared to have been formed in a two part mold; a seam bisected the base, and the "paddle marks" were very precise. The neck and rim appeared to have been added by hand.

10. (Louise Cort, 14 June 2007) Dr. Nguyen Dinh Chien, Museum of Vietnamese History, Hanoi, agrees with my hypothesis that earthenware vessels of this type were made by Khmer potters in the Mekong Delta and suggests a date of 17th–18th century.

11. (Louise Cort, 27 June 2008) Two small wide-mouthed pots of this type were recorded in the Conservation d'Angkor office, Angkor, in March, 1998, by the Sophia University team excavating the Tani kiln site (Aoyagi et al 1999, 129–30; 133, 5–8, 5–9; figs. 5, 18–19; pls. 18–19). With reference to the smaller pot, no. 18 (h. 4.0 cm, diam. 9.0 cm), they noted: "Among the earthenwares was one like those seen during research in Vietnam at the Dong Nai Provincial Museum, as recovered from the Dong Nai River" (ibid., 130). No. 19 was a larger version of the same type (h. 8.0 cm, diam. 12.7 cm).

Aoyagi  Yoji, Sasaki Tatsuo, Tanaka Kazuhiko, Nogami Takenori, and Marui Masako. 1999. "Ankooru iseki Tani yōsekigun dai 2 ji chōsa hokoku (kikan 1998 nen 3 gatsu 23 nichi ~ 29 nichi) [Report on the second investigation of the Tani kiln site at Angkor (period March 23 ~ 29 1998)]." Kanbojia no Bunka Fukkō (Renaissance Culturelle du Cambodge) 16: 123–149.

12. (Louise Cort, 1 October 2008) To Period added Nguyen dynasty. To Date added 19th–mid 20th century (1800–1945).

13. (Louise Cort, 7 April 2014) While resident at the Freer|Sackler as the first Hauge Research Fellow in 2011, Pariwat Thammapreechakorn identified small paddle-shaped bowls of this type as made in Phetchaburi province, central Thailand. They are pots for palm sugar (Thai: moh tal).

According to Nipatporn 1991, 122, Phetchaburi was a center for processing of palm sugar, and the small earthenware pots were made locally for use in transporting palm sugar for sale. The standard size held a liter of palm sugar. Such pots were also used for keeping vegetables. From 1893 to 1927, home-based production of such pots was replaced by a government factory that bought unfired pots to be fired and also taxed sales of palm sugar. The pots made during this period were made in regulated sizes and were typically smaller. After 1927, production returned to private hands, although the small specialized pots were gradually replaced by square metal cans or larger pots made by Mon potters.

Changed Period from Nguyen dynasty to Bangkok period. No change to Date. Changed Title from Shallow bowl with flattened base to Pot for palm sugar. Changed Geography, Origin, from Southern Vietnam to Phetchaburi province, Thailand. No change to Provenance.

Nipatporn Pengkaeo. Moh Tal of Petchaburi. Muang Boran 17, 4 (October-December 1991), 111-122.

Niyom Sukruangrong. Moh Tal of Phetchaburi. Sinlapawatthanatham (Art and culture) 8, 5 (March 1987), 86-90.

14. (Louise Cort, 17 November 2014) An article described the efforts of a Phetchaburi high school teacher, Kittiphong Peungtang, and his students to recover palm sugar pots from the bed of the Phetchaburi River. The palm sugar used to be transported by boat, and occasionally pots were lost overboard.

"Phetchaburi's Treasure Hunter." 2012. Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum Newsletter vol. VI no. 1, p. 1.

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