Water bottle

  • Earthenware, blackened in firing
  • 28.5 x 16.8 cm
  • 19th-mid 20th century, Kon-baung, Colonial, Luang Prabang, or Bangkok period
  • Origin: Burma, Laos, or Northern Thailand
  • Provenance: Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.208


Bottle composed of three sections above tall, splayed pedestal foot: Compressed globular body, shoulder and tubular neck tapered towards a chipped mouth. Several cracks on neck, a loss and a hole pierced through the footring.
Clay: light grey earthenware.
Glaze: none. Surface burnished and blackened by reduction firing.
Decoration: rows of roulette design encircled the neck and shoulder, four rows of dotted marks on pedestal foot; three incised horizontal lines on neck; one tier of carved lotus petals below neck, two tiers above ribbed body.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 20 July 2001) According to Victor Hauge, this jar was acquired in Thailand as "Haripunchai" ware, along with the painted jar S2005.420. This term used to indicate the ceramics made at the old center of Haripunchai, near modern Lamphun, south of Chiang Mai, which was conquered in 1292. See Shaw 1987, 89–91. Shaw substituted the name Lamphun for the anachronistic term "Haripunchai." If the vendor identified this piece as "Haripunchai," however, it may simply indicate that it had come to the vendor from Chiang Mai or vicinity.

Shaw, John C. 1987. Introducing Thai Ceramics; also Burmese and Khmer. Chiang Mai: Duangphorn Kemasingki.  

2. (Louise Cort, 10 July 2002).  According to Mr. Sisavath, vice-director, Luang Prabang Museum, there are more than ten bottles of this type in the museum. Many people still have this type of bottle in their homes in Luang Prabang. 

According to Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, the museum has one bottle of this type, from a French collection given to the museum in 1956, without detailed records.

3. (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, May 14, 2003) Black water bottles of this type made in Maing Kaing are displayed in the Shan States Museum in Southern Shan States, Burma, together with some red versions of the same shape painted with red slip. These bottles are also exhibited in the Pao Museum, an ethnographic museum in Taungyi. They were produced in Panglong, in between Taungyi and Maing Kaing, and Loi Put, southeast of Taungyi (Tsuda 2001, 44–51).

Tsuda saw black water bottles of this type sold in shops at the central market in Kyaing Tong, Eastern Shan States, Burma. He was told by the shopkeeper that these bottles were made at Wor Khok, where four households make earthenware such as drinking water bottles, Buddhist altar vases and water jars with lids as well as small quantities of black alms bowls. Water bottles of two sizes were made, 26 cm and 16 cm in height. Bottles of larger size might have two lugs or be without lugs. Tsuda writes, "On the version with lugs, the footring also bore two holes aligned with the lugs, allowing a cord to be passed through for securing the lid. On the version without lugs, the footring had one hole which, according to one man from a potter's family, was designed to prevent moisture from accumulating inside the footring. They were used for storing drinking water."

This bottle is the large size, with one hole bored on the footring. The bottles of small size were usually for Buddhist offerings, while the large bottles were mainly for domestic use, but occasionally for offerings. The large water bottles had a cylindrical aluminum  cup placed on the mouth as a set. 

Tsuda observed the clay body of the bottles was very close to kaolin, refined and light in color. The potters used the local clay dug in a forest nearby the village. They made the bottles in five steps, working from bottom to top, by coiling except the base. The kilns were underground up draft kilns using bamboo as fuel. The bottles were blackened by reduction firing at the final stage. After firing, they were burnished with flat, smooth stones (Tsuda 2001, figs. 12–13).

Tsuda Takenori. 2001. "Myanmaa, Shyan-shū no tōji (1) (Ceramics in Shan States, Burma (1))." Tōsetsu 577: 44–57.

Tsuda Takenori. 2001. "Myanmaa, Shyan-shū no tōji (2) (Ceramics in Shan States, Burma (2))." Tōsetsu 578: 24–32.

4. (Louise Cort, 21 August 2003) Two bottles of this sort appear among bottles identified as "modern earthenware from Chiengmai" by W. A. Graham (Graham 1922). The source in Chiang Mai would have been the village of Mung Kung, populated by immigrant Burmese potters.

Graham, W. A. 1922. "Pottery in Siam." The Journal of the Siam Society 16(1): 1–27.

5. (Louise Cort, 16 September 2003) Wang Ningsheng, in an article on his ethnoarchaeological research among the ethnic Dai potters in southern Yunnan province (the area known as Sipsongpanna) conducted during the 1960s and 1980s (Wang 2003, 241–262, plus figures), illustrated bottles of this sort made in the village of Mannankan, located in the southern tip of Yunnan province, near the border with Burma and also relatively close to Laos (ibid., 242(map), 250–52, pls. 7–8).

The potters are men and use very small, hand-turned turntables. This relates the production to that by the potters in Mung Kung, south of Chiang Mai, who are said to be immigrant Burmese. Wang recorded the ethnicity of the potters in southern Yunnan as Dai Lu. Wang learned that the village formerly housed pottery production by women. Around 1940 the technique of making this water bottle form was introduced to the village by the headman of a Dai village near the Burmese border. The bottle quickly became a popular product in the market of Jinghong, the major town in Sipsongpanna. Gradually men replaced the women potters and concentrated on production of the water bottle as a full time activity (ibid., 250).

Slide library volunteer Sarah Shay commented that her mother was born in Kunming, and Sarah remembered seeing bottles of this type in her mother's house, although she was not sure whether they were for use (her mother was Han) or simply for decoration.

Bottles of this sort were certainly used in northern Laos, north of Luang Prabang; I saw many in a Tai Lu household along the Ou River when staying there in April, 1990. In 1990 Patricia Naenna (Cheesman) told me that she had met an elderly man making such bottles in Vientiane while living there in the early 1970s.

Wang Ningsheng. 2003. "Yunnan Daizu zhitao de minzu kaoguxue yanjiu (An Ethnoarchaeological Study on the Pottery-making of the Dai People in Yunnan)." Kaogu Xuebao (Acta Archaeologica Sinica) 2 (149): 241–262, plus figs. 1–8.

6. (Louise Cort, 2 May 2005) On 18 May 1990 I visited the ethnic Tai Lu village of Ban Koh, across the Mekong river from Jinghong in Sipsongpanna, southern Yunnan province. Among the vessel shapes made by the lone male potter working in this village was a bottle of this form, which he identified for me (by writing in Chinese on my sketch) as a bottle for offering water to the Buddha and the ancestors in temples. The Tai Lu are related to the Shan in Burma.

The Northern Thai term for this bottle form is ‘nam ton’.

7. (Louise Cort, 16 October 2005) Reviewing slides taken in Sakhon Nakhon province, Northeast Thailand, in 1989, I noticed that a bottle of this type belonged to an esteemed monk (Ajan Man or Ajan Fan) commemorated in a museum. The monk also owned two unglazed stoneware water bottles of the type made at kilns in northern Northeast Thailand (or possibly Laos).

This vessel shape is related to the bottle called surei in eastern India, which in turn was introduced from western India or Pakistan, so the shape was probably transmitted first from India to Burma.

8. (Louise Cort, 19 October 2006) A silver bottle of this form, with a hemispherical cup serving also as a cap, is said to have been part of court regalia in Shan States, Burma, or Lan Na, Northern Thailand (Conway 2003, 50–51). Conway comments that the silver was mined in northern Shan States, and that silver and gold vessels were used in consecration ceremonies and bathing rites.

Conway, Susan. 2003. Power Dressing: Lanna, Shan, Siam 19th century Court Dress. Bangkok: James Thompson Foundation.  

9. (Louise Cort, 27 August 2007) A bottle of this type is in the collection of the National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh (kha 1242/H 615/ 3138).

10. (Louise Cort, 18 December 2007) An unglazed stoneware version of this vessel shape is illustrated on the cover of Chārưk 1990, among a selection of nine vessels seemingly excavated from the Maenam Noi kiln site, although the bottle is not illustrated again in the text. This vessel suggests the longstanding importance of this bottle shape.

Chārưk Wilaikǣo. 1990. Tao Mǣnam Nǭi 2 [Maenam Noi Kilns, part 2]. Bangkok: Krom Sinlapākǭn (Fine Arts Department).

11. (Louise Cort, 24 May 2007) The Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh History, has two bottles of this type, of differing sizes (measurements not taken). No information is available concerning their provenance. (See note 2.)

12. (Louise Cort, 21 February 2008) Archaeologist Roland Mourer, curator at the Musée Guimet in Lyon, purchased a blackened earthenware water bottle of this general type in Cambodia in the 1960s or early 1970s, but he was not able to find out anything about its provenance. I saw the bottle in storage at the museum on 7 September 1998.

13. (Louise Cort, 2 March 2008) Water bottles of this form are among the black pottery vessels made by Shan potters in Papun, according to Taw Sein-ko (Taw 1895, sheet 1). "For utility, fineness, and elegance, the pottery manufactured by Shans at Papun is unrivalled throughout the province."

In 2001 Tsuda Takenori saw production of black pottery in eastern Shan State, east of the town of Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung), in the village of Wor Khuk, where four families were working. They shared a small underground updraft kiln. The pots were blackened at the end of firing by covering the vessels in the ware chamber with rice husks and sealing the chamber with clay; during cooling the clay absorbed the carbon (Tsuda 2005, 61–62 and fig. 24; see also Tsuda 2001 (2)).

Taw Sein-Ko. 1895. Monograph on The Pottery and Glassxware of Burma, 1894–1895. Rangoon: Superintendent, Government Printing.  

Tsuda Takenori. 2005. "Myanmaa seyū tōji—seisan gijitsu to hennen no tame no shiryō (Glazed Ceramics in Myanmar: Their Manufacturing Techinique and Historical Documents for Dating)." Jōchi Ajiagaku (The Journal of Sophia Asian Studies) 23: 56–80 (Japanese), 55–56 (English summary).

Tsuda Takenori. 2001. "Myanmaa, Shyan-shū no tōji (2) (Ceramics in Shan States, Burma (2))." Tōsetsu 578: 24–32.

14. (Louise Cort, 15 March 2008) In conversation in January 1994, Charlotte Reith reported on her field work in Burma that season, during which she learned that potters in one or more villages near Keng Tung, Shan State, made long-necked pots used for offering water to house guests. They were coated with red ochre slip, polished, and fired red or else blackened during firing using rice husks to smother the fire. In her 1999 field work, she also saw blackened water bottles made by male potters in Nam Long village new Muse, Shan State. In conversation in June 2005 she mentioned seeing red and black water bottles as well as ash-glazed stoneware vessels being sold in the market town of Mein Kein (Mongkiang). Unfortunately she was not allowed to visit the producing villages.

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