Earthenware from the Chao Phraya River network

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EARTHENWARE FROM THE CHAO PHRAYA RIVER NETWORK

The study of historical earthenware in Mainland Southeast Asia is in its infancy. One known locale for earthenware production encompasses villages along the Chao Phraya River in the vicinity of the city of Ayutthaya (political center from 1351 to 1767). This earthenware became a focus of interest and some degree of documentation almost by accident-because of collectors' fascination with divers' discovery of Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian porcelain and stoneware ceramics buried in the mud of the Chao Phraya riverbed (Retka 1982). Residents of Bangkok during the 1960s and 1970s recall the adventure of going to Ayutthaya to buy pots, which were sold from small huts or cabins. The finds were always changing, and the prices were half of what they would become when the pots reached Bangkok dealers' shops.

Earthenware vessels were recovered as well by this process and were acquired by a few adventuresome collectors. A valuable collection of earthenware resides in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum at Ayutthaya, although earthenware excavated from the numerous archaeological sites within the old city has not been reported in detail. Some scholars have referred to the earthenware recovered from the riverbed as “Ayutthaya ware” (Morimura 2002), but this catalogue uses the broader designation “Chao Phraya River network” to acknowledge the possibility that products might have been made at villages fairly widely distributed along the Chao Phraya and its tributaries (possibly as far north as Phitsanulok, for example).

In addition to pots, earthenware objects recovered from the riverbed included portable stoves and small abstract figurines of people and animals. Many lids were also found. Vendors typically paired the lids with earthenware vessels for sale—many pots in the Hauge Collection came with such lids—but the wheel-thrown lids were probably produced at stoneware kilns, notably Maenam Noi, that made jars sent to Ayutthaya for use as containers.

Typically collectors have conflated the Ayutthaya provenance with a date in the Ayutthaya period. Although it seems difficult to imagine that fragile-seeming earthenware vessels survived in the riverbed for centuries, the recovered Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai pots confirm dates of manufacture as early as the fourteenth century. (Further considerations for dating are offered below.) The quantity of intact vessels is also thought provoking. It has been suggested that some pots fell into the river from boats that were transporting them to market (and thus were new), while others slid into the water when riverside houses collapsed during floods (and thus could have been used). The mud on the riverbed seems to have absorbed and preserved the pots.  Typically their surfaces are marked by a black tracery left by minute water weeds.

The earliest mention of potters at work in villages along the river may be from a 1655 journal of a Dutch East India Company medicinal specialist:

In Talat Kaew there also lived some Chinese who made their living by painting. As we traveled along the river we passed a great number of large and small boats going from place to place. Some were laden with firewood, atap, katjang, fruit, and other merchandise, and most of them had roofs providing shelter against rain and the hot sunshine…. On the way we also passed many large and small villages, hamlets, and other settlements, all the names of which were impossible for us to know. We saw that in some of them there lived none but various types of potters, and in others only cutters of firewood, but most were occupied by farmers. (Terweil 2008, 44)

W. A. Graham (1922) and Charles Nelson Spinks (1976) were interested in earthenware made in the region. At least one village is still active near Ayutthaya (Morimura 1992).

Ayutthaya was a center of international trade and, as shipwrecks demonstrate, vessels bound from that port almost invariably carried earthenware, although far less attention has been paid to earthenware than to stoneware in shipwreck recoveries. Japan is a valuable source of information on the export of earthenware since—thanks to the omnivorous interests of tea ceremony practitioners, who used exotic vessels as tea utensils—lowly earthenware pots were preserved as precious and occasionally well-documented heirlooms. They have also been excavated from sites in late medieval cities (Nezu Bijutsukan 1993; Chado Shiryokan 2002). Because the Ryukyu kingdom was a conduit of Southeast Asian ceramics to Japan, and because the Southeast Asian stoneware vessels that appear in fifteenth century Ryukyu sites are jars from Sawankhalok and Maenam Noi, which would have been shipped from Ayutthaya, it seems reasonable to assume that many of the earthenware vessels that reached Japan were products of Chao Phraya River network villages. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, however, Japanese traders also visited central Vietnam and Cambodia.

On the basis of earthenware vessels in the Hauge Collection and related materials from securely identifiable contexts, a tentative and preliminary typology can be proposed for round bottomed “cooking pots.” (Some of the sites also yielded flat-bottomed—i.e., wheel-thrown—pots and kendi.)

Group 1: Pattern applied with a carved wooden paddle or multiple paddles.

The first group includes vessels with patterning applied in the course of finishing the vessel shape, using one or more carved wooden paddles to strike against an anvil held inside the jar. They are sometimes patterned overall (types A–D), sometimes only around the neck (type E). Often these patterns have been misunderstood as “stamped,” i.e., made using wooden stamps. Repeated strikes of the carved paddle, with a regular rhythmical repetition essential to the skillful shaping of the pot, can create the optical illusion of a single pattern, but close observation reveals the breaks.

Type A:

Two patterns, dividing roughly at mid-body. The shoulder is patterned elaborately with variations of complex “stripes”—straight lines alternating with zigzag or interlacing bands (called “fish braid” by Green et al, 1987). Designs are  reminiscent of textile patterning and are usually applied on the diagonal but can  slant in either direction (seemingly indicating right-handed or left-handed potters).

The lower body and base are patterned with a simpler, coarser texture, typically hatching or cross-hatching (made with a paddle carved with parallel or intersecting grooves), although some more elaborate textures are known. In some cases, the complex pattern used on the shoulder continues down to the base.

Sources:

Shipwrecks:
Turiang (1400–1430, according to Brown 2004). One pot with a tall neck containing a “resinous substance,” h. 28 cm; another with a short neck, h. 16 cm. (Brown and Sjostrand 2001, plate 25; Brown 2004; http://www.maritimeasia.ws/turiang/otherceramics.html)
Ko Si Chang 3 (1430–87, according to Brown 2004). (Green and Harper 1987, 18; Green et al 1987, 57–61)

Excavations:
Ayutthaya. (Morimura 1991, 158, fig. 14)
Hakata HKT60 M370 site (1450–1500, according to Morimura 2002). Wide elaborate stripe pattern on shoulder curving to right; hatching on lower half. Hakata was an important medieval seaport. (Arishima 1991, 118, 119 fig. 3–20, 128 pl. 3; Nezu Bijutsukan 1993, 94, ref. 3–2) Ichijodani site (1550–73). Inside coated with black lacquer, suggesting use as a tea ceremony water jar. A warrior settlement in Echizen prefecture, the site was destroyed in battle in 1573. (Morimura 1991)

Heirlooms:
Private collection. Long-necked jar, hard-fired, three stacking scars on the mouth rim (evidence for earthenware production in association with stoneware kilns?), h. 17.8 cm. Storage box inscription by Kyoto tea master Mitani Sochin (1665–1741). (Nezu Bijutsukan 1993, 73, no. 117) National Palace Museum, Taipei. Inscription inside rim by the Qianlong emperor (r 1735–1795), dated 1737. (Hsieh 2003)

Hauge Collection: S2005.192, S2005.380, S2005.391, S2005.394a, S2005.395, S2005.398, S2005.399, S2005.401, S2005.402

Type B:

Two patterns, one for the upper shoulder and one for the entire body. A narrow band of paddle-applied pattern appears at the upper edge of the shoulder, just below the neck. The rest of the body is decorated with a different pattern, usually less complex, often with a “basketweave” or checkered appearance.

Sources:

Excavations:
Nagasaki, Kozenmachi site, Yao residence (1550–1650). Two fragments of vessel walls with checkered “basketweave” pattern. Kozenmachi is the present name of Shinmachi, a town established in 1592. The Yao were wealthy merchants involved in the Chinese silk trade and served as town elders. The excavation uncovered the main house, a warehouse, and two wells. (Tokyo-to Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan 1996, 85, fig. 2–24, 191–2, 196)

Heirlooms:
Former collection of Matsudaira Fumai (1751–1818), daimyo of Izumo province and famed collector of tea utensils. Narrow band of pattern around the shoulder below the neck, horizontal hatching on the rest of the body, h. 21.5 cm, diam. 24.6 cm. (Nezu Bijutsukan 1993, 39, no. 65)

Hauge Collection:  S2005.382, S2005.384, S2005.385, S2005.386, S2005.387, 2005.388, S2005.389, S2005.390, S2005.396, S2005.397

Type C:

Three patterns, one for the upper shoulder, one for the midsection of the body, and one for the base. On some vessels, the pattern of the narrow band on the upper shoulder is most complex, the central pattern is less complex, and the pattern on the base is least elaborate. On other vessels, the same paddle was used to impress the narrow band on the upper shoulder and the base.

Sources:

Shipwrecks:
None identified.

Excavations:
None identified.

Heirlooms:
None identified.

Hauge Collection: S2005.189, S2005.403, S2005.404

Type D:

One pattern, used overall. This format may be related to use, as it occurs on certain shapes of Hauge Collection vessels, or it may represent a simplification of    the production process.

Sources:

Shipwrecks:
None identified.

Excavations:
None identified.

Heirlooms:
None identified.

Hauge Collection: S2005.379, S2005.381, S2005.383, S2005.392, S2005.393, S2005.407

Type E:

A narrow band of pattern around the shoulder just below the angle with the neck. The pattern was impressed with a narrow carved paddle. The rest of the body is smooth and unpatterned, finished with a smooth paddle that left no visible trace (though subtle undulations in the wall reveal the technique to touch).

Sources:

Shipwrecks:
Ko Si Chang 1 (1573–1619, according to Brown 2004). Pot with a long neck and a narrow band of patterning around the shoulder at the base of the neck. (Green and Harper 1987, 18, fig. 17c)

Excavations:
Nagasaki, Manzaimachi site, Takashima residence (late 16th–early 17th century). Fragment of a vessel with a narrow band of patterning (overlapping horizontal nested diamonds). Manzaimachi is the former Omuramachi, one of six towns established in 1571 for trade with Portugal. The Takashima family settled there in 1588. (Tokyo-to Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan 1996, 85, figs. 2–25)

Heirlooms:
Private collections, provenance not known. Six vessels, h.9–18 cm. The tallest has a long neck; the others have short necks. (Chado Shiryokan 2002, nos. 98–103)

Hauge Collection: S2005.371, S2005.372, S2005.373, S2005.374, S2005.375, S2005.376, S2005.377, S2005.378

Group 2: Pattern applied using individual carved wooden stamps, pressed repeatedly

Type A:

Neck smooth. Body smooth except for a single band of distinct repeating motifs around the neck, applied individually using a carved (fine-grained wooden?) stamp. (In addition, on some examples, horizontal stripes painted with red pigment on the neck and body.)

Sources:

Shipwrecks:
None identified.

Excavations:
None identified.

Heirlooms:
Private collection. Continuous band made with an individual stamp of repeating overlapping chevrons, pointing downward, around the neck, h. 9.7 cm. (Chado Shiryokan 2002, no. 104)

Private collection. Continuous band made with an individual stamp of repeating overlapping chevrons, pointing downward, around the neck, h. 9.5 cm. The porous clay body, full of small stones, was coated with lacquer to make it waterproof. (Nezu Bijutsukan 1993, 72, nos. 116, 165)

Hauge Collection: S2005.353, S2005.354, S2005.355, S2005.356, S2005.357, S2005.358, S2005.259, S2005.360, S2005.361, S2005.362, S2005.363, S2005.364, S2005.365, S2005.366

Type B:

Neck smooth. Body patterned over the upper and mid-body by multiple bands of individually stamped motifs of various types.

Sources:

Shipwrecks:
None identified.

Excavations:
None identified.

Heirlooms:
None identified.

Hauge Collection: S2005.349, S2005.350, S2005.351, S2005.352

Sackler Collection: S1994.16

The distribution of these two types of earthenware—in shipwrecks and in excavations of habitation sites and heirloom collections in Japan—suggests that the variations of Group 1 with paddle-impressed patterning are older. They are seen in contexts dating from the early fifteenth century through the mid-seventeenth century (Morimura 2002, 277). Tentatively, the types in Group 1 are dated as follows:

Type A:  15th–16th century
Type B:  16th–17th century
Type C:  16th–17th century
Type D:  16th–17th century
Type E:  16th–17th century

Only a few examples of Group 2 are found in Japan, in heirloom contexts that are not well defined. Possibly this means that few Group 2 pots were made before 1635, when direct Japanese trade with Southeast Asia was ended by government decree. (Chinese and Dutch ships continued to arrive at Nagasaki, however.) On the other hand, bands of red pigment on some Group 2 Type A pots resemble pigment bands on earthenware kendi datable to the sixteenth century (S2005.343–344, S2005.1). The proposed dates for these Group 2 types are:

Type A:  17th–19th century
Type B:  17th–19th century

These dates are based on archaeological evidence from Japan and so depend on trade connections between Ayutthaya and Japan. Study of earthenware recovered from datable sites in Ayutthaya and vicinity will help to establish the true duration of production for domestic use.

In any case, Group 1 and Group 2 are sufficiently different in approaches to forming and decoration that they probably represent the earthenware traditions of two different groups of inhabitants of the Ayutthaya region, rather than two sequential phases of a single tradition. The periods of their production might well overlap. The older dates for Group 1 pots may indicate production by potters living in the area from an earlier time. The later dates for Group 2, seemingly continuing later than Group 1, may represent the gradual domination of the earthenware industry by the latecomers. The evidence of earthenware from datable sites within Ayutthaya will be crucial for clarifying these relationships.

The stamped patterning on Group 2 pots may imply a relationship, in terms of the manner of decoration, to pots with bands of stamped motifs made from an early date in ethnic Mon communities in the Irrawaddy Delta in Burma. Some sort of continuity is suggested by the densely stamped patterns with multiple motifs used by ethnic Mon potters at Ko Kret, Nonthaburi province, the last of several villages of pottery production established along the Chao Phraya River between Ayutthaya and Bangkok in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by Mon immigrants from Burma (Foster 1972). This type of ware may be represented by the densely patterned wide-mouthed pot—probably earthenware but perhaps metal—from which a “Siamese” couple dips rice as they eat a meal, as shown in a woodblock-printed illustration in a 1787 Japanese publication based upon information gathered from the Dutch at Nagasaki, Kōmō Zatsuwa (Miscellaneous Tales of Red-haired Peoples), by Morishima Chūryō.

Evidence pertaining to Group 1 pots, distinguished by carved-paddle patterning, comes from excavations conducted around the Grand Pool at the Royal Palace in Angkor in 1995–98. The Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai ceramics recovered from those excavations show that the site was occupied from the tenth through early seventeenth centuries, if not later (Dupoizat 1999). Fragments of earthenware with elaborate paddle-impressed texturing—diagonal stripes with interlacing or zigzag patterning—were also found (Franiatte 2000, 117, fig. 35). (Smooth, unpatterned cooking pots with “fine orange-brown paste” were found as well [ibid., 112, fig. 31]). It is not impossible that the patterned fragments found in Angkor could be from the Chao Phraya region, since twenty-five sherds of Sukhothai and Sawankhalok stoneware were excavated (Dupoizat 1999, 110).

Ethnographic evidence suggests, however, that carved-paddle patterning is an approach closely associated with Khmer earthenware production, and so the vessel fragments found at the Royal Palace may have been local production. Paddle-impressed patterns are used today by ethnic Khmer potters working in the Mekong Delta (Cort and Lefferts 2000, 59, figs.18–20; 60, figs. 22–24) (S2005.190, S2005.191, S2005.405). Their pots resemble Group 1 Type C, with one pattern on the neck, a second pattern on the body, and a third pattern on the base. Potters in Kompong Speu province, southern Cambodia, also apply texture with a paddle (ibid., 55, fig.11). By extension one might speculate that Group 1 earthenware from the Chao Phraya River network represents a Khmer-influenced or Khmer-inspired technology which once was widespread but which was gradually replaced by Group 2 earthenware made by immigrant Mon potters and their descendents.