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

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  • Earthenware
  • 8.6 x 4.2 cm
  • Ban Chiang culture
  • 300 BCE-200 CE, Ban Chiang culture, late period
  • Origin: Northeast Thailand
  • Gift of Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.42

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Joyce White, 8 December 2003) Weird—is this OK? The grooves are so narrowly spaced for the size of the piece, compared to other rollers.

2. (Louise Cort, 18 February 2005) Objects of this type have been recovered from the Lao archaeological site known as Lao Pako, across the Mekong River from Ban Chiang and inland (Kallen 2004, 154–5). Kallen includes the objects in a discussion of objects associated with textile production, along with spindle whorls, but she writes:

"The clay seals, including so called stamp rollers, have exclusively been found in the cultural layers. Three are cylindrical rollers, one with a zigzag pattern, one with concentric circles, and one with straight lines around the cylinder. The latter of these was only half and in poor condition when it was found. The first two, with zigzag and circle patterns, have both got holes bored at the ends approximately 5 mm from each side, whereas the last with straight lines has had a hole all the way through. As has been argued earlier (Kallen and Karlstrom 1999:35), the lack of holes bored all the way through excludes the possible use of these first two rollers as beads. Rather they must be regarded as seals, with similar function as the disc-shaped seal.... This seal is made of red well fired oxidized clay, while the rollers are dark gray or black in colour. It is not know what these objects, present on archaeological sites all over the Khorat plateau, may have been used for since there are so far no imprints found on any preserved materials. It can be assumed that they were used on impermanent materials, of which there is a wide range of plausible possibilities: wood, bark or cortex, leather, human skin, food, textile.... Thus the clay seals are here placed in the textile production category only due to the lack of better alternatives."

Kallen, Anna. 2004. And Through Flows the River: Archaeology and the Pasts of Lao Pako. Studies in Global Archaeology 6. Uppsala: African and Comparative Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University.

Kallen, A., and A. Karlstrom. 1999. Lao Pako: a late prehistoric site on the Nam Ngum River in Laos. Oxford: Archaeopress.

3. (Louise Cort, 28 June 2009; notes from conversation with Joyce White, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Art and Archaeology, 16 December 2002) Joyce White agrees with the theory that Ban Chiang rollers were used to print patters on textiles. If unwashed, the rollers could be checked for evidence of fat, wax, and resin. Rollers belong primarily to late period 10 (with some from late period 9). Most are excavated in association with solid red or red-on-red pottery, fewer with red-on-buff pottery. Over 200 rollers have been excavated in Ban Chiang, but less that 30 of those were found in graves. Most are heavily worn and appear to have been discarded in the general site. Not all holes in rollers go through completely.

There is a grammar of rollers (documented in an unpublished paper prepared by White's team), with three types of roller designs. The most common rollers have linear patterns of a type that does not vary. The rarest rollers bear sectional designs, with more than one section repeated when the roller is rolled in one complete revolution. The third type bears a single design that is completed in a complete revolution.

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