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Ref ID: 32972
Ref Type: Journal Article
Authors: Rooney, Dawn F.
Title: A field guide to glazed Thai ceramics
Date: 1990
Source: Asian Perspectives (1988-1989)
Abstract: Introduction: At the beginning of the 1980s the accepted view on the development of Thai ceramics supported four ideas: (a) that kilns were set up in north-central Thailand in the thirteenth century to make glazed wares
(b) that production started at Sukhothai and, after the source of clay was depleted, moved to Sawankhalok (Si Satchanalai)
(c) that the technology for making high-fired glazed stoneware derived from China
and (d) that the kilns closed in the mid-fifteenth century because of war. These parameters were based mainly on historical, rather than material, evidence. Scientific excavations of the kilns were limited in quantity and scope. Now, at the end of the decade, material evidence is the primary basis of research, due to the discovery of thousands of ceramics and extensive archaeological research in the past ten years. Analyses of these finds challenge the original ideas. Doubts about the earlier theory emerged in the mid-1970s when both Sawankhalok and Sukhothai ceramics dating from the first half of the fifteenth century were recovered from a sunken ship in the Gulf of Thailand (Brown 1975: 356-370). This was the first archaeological evidence that the two kiln sites were in operation simultaneously. Subsequently, Sawankhalok wares were found together with midsixteenth- century Chinese blue and white ware at another wreck site (Howitz 1979: 15), suggesting that the Sawankhalok kilns operated at least 100 years later than previously believed (Brown 1988: 7). The next advance in research came in 1980 when a joint Thai-Australian team began excavations at Si Satchanalai. After seven years of work at the site, the Thai Ceramics Archaeological Project (TCAP) has made some startling discoveries. TCAP proposes the tenth or eleventh century as the beginning date for glazed ceramic production in Thailand (Hein 1987: 13
Hein and Barbetti 1988: 12), which is 300 years earlier than the original theory. It must, however, be considered a provisional date until the results of scientific testing have been published. These finds also indicate that the earliest glazed Thai ceramics were made at the Ban Koi Noi kilns in Sawankhalok, not Sukhothai, (Hein 1987: 17) and that the technologydeveloped indigenously without any early influence from China (Hein 1987: 9-13
Hein and Barbetti 1988: 17). Research in this decade on the development of ceramic production in northern Thailand has steadily progressed. It substantiates that the region was an extensive center making high-quality glazed ceramics between the early fourteenth and mid-sixteenth centuries (Shaw 1987: 55
Brown 1988: 84). These wares have attracted less attention because there have been no comprehensive excavations of the sites. Also, the wares were not exported, so very few pieces have been found outside of Thailand. The most recent addition to research was an unprecedented discovery of ceramics made in 1984 in Tak Province. Quantities of ceramics were found in burials in two mountainous areas near the Burmese border. The inhabitants of the area and the owners of the graves are unknown. The types of wares include Chinese, Vietnamese, Sukhothai, Sawankhalok, and northern Thai wares as well as Burmese ceramics, a previously unknown group (Shaw 1985 :93-102
1986: 10-13). Based on a stylistic comparison with burial wares in other parts of Southeast Asia, the Tak finds date from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-sixteenth century (Shaw 1986: 10-13). These finds constitute a large body of artifactual evidence that has enormous potential as a principal research source. To make it accessible to those who are not specialists, however, a simple system of identification is needed. This paper, therefore, proposes a field guide to be used for the initial identification of glazed Thai ceramics.
Date Created: 12/28/2002
Volume: 28
Number: 2
Page Start: 125
Page End: 144