Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia:
Collections in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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Wide-mouthed jar

  • Earthenware
  • 10.9 x 19.8 cm
  • 18th-mid 20th century, Nguyen Lords period, Tay Son or Nguyen dynasty
  • Origin: Dong Nai province, Southern Vietnam
  • Provenance: Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.162

Description

Wide-mouthed vessel with thick, rounded rim. Wheel thrown. Small foot in propostion to size of vessel and mouth. Lower body trimmed to mid-point of vessel. Lime (?) in bottom.

Curatorial Remarks

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

Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, believes this piece is from Oc Eo, based on similar pieces in her museum identified as coming from Oc Eo, collected after 1975 from Oc Eo by a museum staff member. He collected them near Vong The mountain. They were discarded by local people who had been digging for gold and other Oc Eo-era artifacts or digging their fields for planting. See also S2004.49, 99, 164, 163, 124.

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. 1960. 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, 13 May 2005) See also FSC-S-100-129, a group of stone blades acquired by the Hauges in Saigon and most likely collected from the Oc Eo region, donated to the Study Collection in 2001.

4. (Louise Cort, 16 May 2005) Malleret (1960, Pl. XXI, type 8 [drawings], Pl. LVIII [photo], p. 138 [text]) published two vessels of this general type, found at Oc Eo, as Type 8 in his listing of wide-mouth bowls (which he suggested could be crucibles for glass workers, because of their stable forms). He noted that they had flat bases and rolled rims. The reddish clay body of these bowls contained considerable red sand bearing muscovite particles and metallic flakes. He mentioned that another bowl of the same type, without provenance or number, was in the Phnom Penh museum.

Malleret, Louis. 1960. 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, 2 February 2007) A bowl of this general size and shape, although seemingly made of reddish unglazed stoneware, was in the collection of the Vietnam Museum of History when I visited storage on 24 February 2006 (acc. no. 51.02.07.278). It was collected from Vinh Long province, from a man aged 77. The vessel had been dug up when a canal was dug in 1955. The owner imagined the pot was about 100 years old because his grandmother had used this kind of pot. He first used it to roast salt (to dry it) or to hold salt. When that vessel was replaced by a metal vessel, he then used the ceramic bowl to hold food for his ducks. His grandparents had used the same sort of container for cooking rice (because they were poor).

6. (Louise Cort, 28 January 2009) On the basis of research described above, changed the Geography for this group of bowls from Vietnam to Southern Vietnam, Dong Nai province. To Period added Nguyen lords period, Tay Son or Nguyen dynasty. Changed Date from 200–600 CE (the date initially given when these pieces were first accessioned as "Oc Eo") to 18th–mid 20th century.


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