Wednesday, March 14, 2018

[Roundtable Workshop Recap] Maritime Archaeology and Ceramic Road in Southeast Asia and China


Roundtable Workshop: Maritime Archaeology and Ceramic Road in Southeast Asia and China

Date: December 1, 2017

Speakers and Topics:
Mr. Chhay Rachna (Angkor Ceramic Unit, APSARA Authority, Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Topic: Understanding the Context of Khmer Ceramics and Kilns and their Association with Cross-Cultural Exchange

Dr. Ellen Hsieh (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA)
Topic: Non-invasive Scientific Analysis on Trade Ceramics from Consumption Sites and Shipwrecks

Dr. Brian Fahy (The Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Oxford)
Topic:Seeing the Forest for the Trees: A Holistic Study of Southeast Asian Shipwreck Assemblages

     Ceramics has always been one of the main focuses in the field of maritime archaeology. On 1st December 2017, a Roundtable Workshop was held by our department, inviting three guest speakers to share their thoughts on maritime archaeology and ceramics. We had Mr. Chhay Rachna from Angkor Ceramic Unit, APSARA Authority, sharing on Khmer ceramics and kilns and their connections with other Southeast Asia cultural groups; Dr. Ellen Hsieh, from Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, talked about non-invasive scientific analysis on trade ceramics found in shipwrecks and consumption sites; Dr. Brian Fahy, from The Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Oxford, presented his arguments on the essentiality of establishing a holistic study of Southeast Asian shipwreck assemblages.
Prof. Sharon Wong giving a welcoming speech
Khmer ceramics produced in the Angkorian period were only for local use, suggested by Mr. Chhay, while relations and interactions with outer regions lied within the economy of ceramic imports. Mr. Chhay studied the Khmer interactions with other regions in ceramics during the Angkorian period by comparing ceramics found in the production sites and consumption sites, and evidence from terrestrial archaeological sites beyond Khmer Empire and Southeast Asian shipwrecks.
The presentation mainly focused on three primary stoneware ceramic production sites, namely the Angkorian core region group (Group I), provincial Angkorian production centre (Group II), and late Angkorian production centre (Group III). The ceramics in Group I are mainly green glazed and unglazed. White clay was used to make small glazed containers, while grey clay from the nearby source was used to make unglazed ceramics. Stoneware excavated in kilns of Group I ranges from roof tiles to boxes, bottles, pots, plates, large jars and large basins, with diverse patterns incised by potters. For Group II, most of the ceramics found were brown glazed and dark green glazed, made of red clay, and supported by regular fire clay inside the kilns differing from irregular fire clays found in Group I. Most of the stoneware found in Group III were likewise brown glazed, produced in kilns with structural elements similar to those in Group II.
Mr. Chhay argued, these Khmer wares were for daily use, commonly excavated in various consumption sites, while imported Chinese ceramics tended to be more precious, bulk of Chinese ceramics assemblages were rare to be found outside the Greater Angkor Region which is the elite context. For instance, in Prei Monti Temple in Roluos, which was the early Angkorian site from the 9th Century, 17.5% of excavated ceramics were imported, with 73.6% Khmer earthenware and 8.9% Khmer stoneware. There were Chinese ceramics and ceramics from other countries found in archaeological sites that are located in Greater Angkor Region, but no Khmer ceramics was found in both terrestrial archaeological sites beyond Khmer Empire and Southeast Asian shipwrecks. By comparing ceramics in production sites and consumption sites and evidence from shipwrecks, Mr. Chhay proposed that ceramics from the mentioned three sites were for local consumption; the relations and interactions with outer region were found to be in the import trade as abundant ceramics from other regions were found in elite consumption sites.
Mr. Chhay Rachna
Archaeologists face various challenges when they adopt prevalent methods to identify ceramics. There are visual analysis, which includes the observation of the types, forms, glazes, pastes and decorative patterns of ceramics, and scientific analysis, such as the study of chemical composition, crystallization process and weathering process. The visual analysis did not serve well for archaeological research, which often involves dirty, broken, tiny sherds with no decoration, while scientific analysis requires sophisticated invasive laboratory instruments which are not suitable for the large quantity of sherds or to be used on site, given the time and money they cost, and the damages they made on the sherds. In response to these problems, Dr. Ellen Hsieh proposed non-invasive portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) and fiber optics reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) for the identification of ceramics in archaeological context. The presentation mainly focused on the application of pXRF, and the pXRF patterns of chemical elements in blue pigments and white areas on ceramics produced in Jingdezhen, Zhangzhou from China and Hizen from Japan were shown. Dr. Hsieh analyzed the pigments of blue-and-white ceramics found on Santa Cruz shipwreck from the Philippines with pXRF and identified them to be produced in Jingdezhen by comparing the data which the compositional pattern of pigments in Jingdezhen ceramics found to be highly matched with those on Santa Cruz, showing cobalt-based blue pigments, with poor Iron and rich Manganese. Dr. Hsieh presented her application of non-invasive technology in identifying ceramics and argued that this provides new possible ways to see global networks from chemical composition.

Dr. Ellen Hsieh
A ceramic-centered narrative is not enough to understand a shipwreck, argued by Dr. Brian Fahy, who agreed the importance of ceramics but also other often-neglected materials that could be found on shipwrecks. Dr. Fahy studied the materials that were excavated in six Southeast Asian shipwrecks and sites, namely Turiang, Bakau, Rang Kwien, Ko Si Chang III, Lena Shoal, and Santa Cruz. These materials include iron sand, tin ingots, Chinese coins, manufactured materials such as mirrors, armaments such as lantakas, sword and spearhead, net weight, fishing hook, duck egg, aniseed, peppercorns, minerals, beads, grinding stone, earthenware, and so forth. The study of these materials can serve for a better understanding of the social, economic and political context of the past. For instance, the rosette on the tin ingots found on Turiang, a shipwreck near to Malaysia, corresponds to the pattern on the money used in Malaysia. What does this phenomenon imply? What is the significance of the pattern? This may need further study, but it shows how these materials play a role in facilitating us to understand the past. With the consideration of the aforementioned materials, Dr. Fahy argued that it will give us a more complete picture of the networks as established by the ships back then.
Dr. Brian Fahy


Text: Sonia Fung Lok Shan

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