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

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Jar with remains of two lugs at neck

  • Underfired stoneware with eroded iron glaze
  • 29 x 23.5 cm
  • 17th century, Lan Na period
  • Origin: Northern Thailand
  • Provenance: Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.232

Description

Jar with flat base, rounded shoulder, upright neck, everted rim. Raised ridge at join between neck and shoulder. Traces of two opposed horizontal lugs on shoulder below neck. Wheel thrown, possibly finished with paddle and anvil; vertical curving lines around body. Coated with soot.

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) Based on the form of the jar, a date in the 17th century seems reasonable.

3. (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.

4. (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.

5. (Louise Cort, 20 Sept 2006) Compare the design of S2005.141, an unglazed stoneware jar (Vietnamese?) with a ridge between the neck and shoulder and vertical lugs set at the neck over incised lines.

6. (Louise Cort, 7 January 2006) The form, the distinctive twisted "chatter" lines in the body (a result of forming technique?), and the way the glaze is cut off even with the flat base all suggest a Northern Thai kiln (compare S2005.212–213, which Victor Hauge states are possibly Lampang ware). The fact that this jar was found in the Mekong Delta is fascinating but not impossible; Morimoto Asako tentatively identified Northern Thai celadon-glazed dishes and bowls in 16th–17th century contexts among the grave goods from the Dai Lang cemetery in Lam Dong province, Vietnam (Morimoto 1996, 95).

The small-scale horizontal lugs have counterparts in Northern Thai jars recovered from burials in the upland Tak/Omkoi area on the Thai-Burmese border (Brown 1988, pl. XKIV-b–d).

Changed Origin from China? to Northern Thailand.

Morimoto Asako. 1996. "Chūbu Betonamu, Ramudon-shō Dairan iseki no tōjiki (Ceramics from the Dai Lang Site in the Central Highlands of Vietnam)." Bōeki Tōji Kenkyū [Trade Ceramics Studies] 16: 94–110 (Japanese), 129 (English summary).

Brown, Roxanna M. 1988. The Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification. 2nd ed. Singapore: Oxford University Press.


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