Ceramics Conference – Abstracts 2008

Dawn F. Rooney

Art historian specializing in Southeast Asia

“Extraordinary green-glazed, Khmer elephant jar”

In 1985 an extraordinary green-glazed, Khmer elephant jar was discovered in Tak Province, Thailand and purchased by a Thai collector. It is now in the collection of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum, Bangkok University, Rangsit. The jar, dated between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is unprecedented in the Khmer ceramic repertoire. Its exceptionally large size and elaborate decoration are rare characteristics and these aspects plus its pristine condition given that the jar was buried in the ground for at least 800 years evoked reactions amongst the public that the piece was not genuine. Further discoveries, additional research, and scientific testing, however, confirm that this elephant jar is genuine and a fine example of the genius of the Khmer potters’ creativity and skillful workmanship. This paper begins with a background of the discovery of the piece, followed by a description of the technical characteristics and an examination of comparative pieces; then concludes with a discussion of the iconography, and the possible meaning and function of the jar in Khmer society.

Dr. I-Chi Hsu

Editor, Chinese Potters Newsletter Quarterly, Beijing, China.
Curator, FuLe International Ceramic Art Museums, Fuping, China

Contemporary Chinese Ceramic Arts

China is rich in ceramic tradition, but when talking about contemporary ceramic art, China is very weak. People always ask me how do I define the Contemporary Chinese Ceramic Art. My answer is that the appearance of ceramic studio artists in China in the 90’s marked the beginning of the contemporary Chinese Ceramic art. It came a long way and from a complicated background which on one hand is the influence of Chinese ceramic traditions and on the other hand is the Chinese uneasy political and military environment in the last half Century.
Chinese traditional ceramics were made under the team effort. This is the reason why all the Chinese ceramic masterpieces never bear artist’s name. Then, in the middle of the 20th century, China was in the war most of the time. When communists took over the Mainland China, China denounced the individualism. China was very much isolated from the world of art. The development of modern arts in the world in the second half of the 20th Century is significant but Chinese artists never shared such benefits and glory.
However, in the last 20 years of the 20th Century, due to China’s reform and opening up, China’s ceramic industry, just like any other industries, was under dramatic changes. In the late 80s, most government-run ceramic factories were either closed down or reorganized to suit the modern economic environment. At the same time, private factories and family-run production units were flourishingly established and even controlled the mainstream of production in many ceramic towns. Such marketing economics in China provides a suitable background for independent ceramic artists to grow. The “ceramic studio artist” concept, which is the core of the contemporary ceramic arts in the world, is introduced to China from western world.
Since 1995, contemporary ceramic art movements have been developed with amazing speed. The “China Ceramics Today”, a traveling exhibition started from Ariana Museum in Geneva in 2002 and toured 6 more cities in Europe and the U.S.A. for two years. This exhibition marked the significance of the development of the first generation of contemporary ceramic art in China which covered the last twenty years of the 20th Century when China just opened up and conducted the reform. This was the first time to have the world to see Chinese contemporary ceramic art. The response was warm and encouraging. However, this generation still represented the one with strong traditional background even their effort to approach the contemporary ceramic art was strong.
Just as the fast speed of development of China in various fields, the
ceramic art in China was more confused. This is caused by the following

  • A new generation merged in: In the 21st Century, a new Chinese generation was born after China opened up and never suffered any hard living. They are the only child in the family and had a happy childhood. They practically disconnected from Chinese tradition. Art work created by this generation is quite different from the generation before.
  • Diversified approach: Because the vast merged in contemporary art in general into China, ceramic art was also influenced, particularly to this new generation.
  • An ambitious mind: A tendency of becoming a significant ceramic artist is what most young ceramic artist looking for. They try to make big art work, big installation or set up a huge studio. This may be some one’s dream but it also become true to some artist. However, I believe this period will be passed soon. Chinese ceramic art will be settled down more reasonably and marched into a more promising future. When people ask me what is the future of Chinese contemporary ceramic art? I would say that the future of Chinese contemporary ceramic art always lies in between tradition and contemporary expression; Although China had a late start, and is going through a confusing period, but it has a high and solid foundation laid by our ancestors. I am expecting a “great leap forward” future for Chinese contemporary ceramic art.
    December 2008

Mr. Kou Vet

Archaeological Expert of JASA Project

Khmer Ceramics Excavated from the Prasat Suor Prat, Angkor Thom

It is a report of the Khmer ceramics excavated from Prasat Sour Prat (PSP) during 1995 to 2005. PSP locates in the heart of Angkor Thom consists of a typical terrace among the other temples of Khmer architectures. The complex consists of twelve laterite towers and their terraces, located on a north-south axis in the eastern portion of the Royal Palace complex. They are aligned in two groups on either side of the royal avenue, which runs from the front of the Royal Palace to the Victory Gate. The six towers to the north of the avenue are designated as the Northern Group (N1-N6) and the six to the south as the Southern Group (S1-S6).
Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA) had been planning and conducting archaeological excavations and investigations for providing basic data to establish a practical restoration plan, with the more specific aim of confirming the original morphology of the terraces and circular moat, unraveling their construction techniques and the successive modifications made to them, and determining chronological relationship between features with dating. The total excavated area measured more than 4200 m2, and the main area of excavations and investigations was carried out on the periphery terraces N1, N2, N3, and S1; surrounding moat and northern pond.
Regarding the major parts of the terraces, part investigations had generally clarified their structures and construction methods. The detected constructions of each features and soil straigraphy or rammed earth demonstrates that the terraces were not completed in one single phase, but were rather rebuilt and extended in several times from the construction, until the newest terrace which remains on the ground surface today. On the process of each successive modification, the previous features were dismantled, the ground surface of former terrace was covered with thick soil strata by ramming earth, and several parts of the terraces were extended broadly to outside as a plan, and then other new features were built on these later terraces. The terraces re-building activities and vestiges thereof can be divided into four more or less times.
The stratigraphy in the excavated areas basically corresponds with the four stages of the terraces construction which was Layer I is the present ground surface. Layer II, Layer III, Layer IV, Layer V and so on are artificially-laid soil layers for the construction of the fourth, third, second and first stages. Many excavated artifacts were gathered from these layers.
The representative Khmer ceramics are jars, pots, tiles, bowls, lidded boxes, and vessels. Both glazed and un-glazed ceramics were uncovered. Among un-glazed ceramics, tiles, jars, and pots were numerous. These ceramics were mixed with other ceramics such as Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese ceramics in the same layers.
The above ceramics are now put into studying by archaeological experts of the JASA project.

Ms. Wong Wai Yee, Sharon

PhD candidate

Technological Innovation on Khmer Ceramics. Case Study on Ceramics Production in Kampong Chhnang Province

Technological Innovation by definition is a first application of a new process or product based on technological changes in the production process of existing products that play an important role in improving production competitiveness and efficiency. Khmer ceramics industries had an important technological innovation during Angkorian period, their manufacture processes and product types had surpassed well beyond the previous stages. What factors cause such technological innovation? In December, 2007, I had undertaken a short visit on ceramics production in Kampong Chhnang Province with helpful research assistance of Tep Sohka, Sakhoeun Sakada and Keo Chansophany from Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh. We investigated the ceramics production processes on both traditional and new methods in the villages, and interviewed some potters and salesmen in the local markets in order to find out (1) reasons of potters making their decisions on using either traditional or new methods on ceramics production in the same village(2) how this new ceramics technology (like glazing, wheel-throwing methods) spread through the village (3) how the local markets stimulate the potters to receive new ceramics technology by improving production competitiveness and efficiency. We hope that this preliminary study on contemporary Khmer ceramics production may enlighten us on ceramics tradition debate of Khmer ceramics studies during Angkorian period.

Till Sonnemann

University of Sydney

Ground-Penetrating Radar as a Possible Method to Investigate Medieval Khmer Kiln Sites.

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is a non-destructive geophysical method widely used in archaeological prospection that constructs a three dimensional image of the sub surface and is used prior to a potential excavation.
The archaeologist detects the extended site of a kiln by the accumulation of sherds in the area. As the size of medieval kilns is limited to a few meters and since their use over time might have lost their round shape, collapsed and overgrow, they might not be easily detectable by conventional methods. Additionally one kiln often implies other kilns close to it. Due to the high temperature when the kiln was fired the electromagnetic property of the earthen walls are altered and differ from the surroundings. A GPR survey should be done as a grid, by moving the radar antenna line by line over the extended kiln area. The antenna sends a radar signal which is reflected by features with an electromagnetic characteristic that differs from the overlaying surface and measured by the instrument. The processing of the received data produces a 3-dimensional image of the area’s subsurface, which makes it superior to other geophysical 2-dimensional methods like magnetometers. The provided information helps the archaeologist to reduce the potential excavation area horizontally and vertically and to receive rapid results about certain features of the kiln. The fire pit, the hardened floor and any structural features should be detectable, so the extension and depth of the kiln can be defined. Larger grids can additionally define the extended working area around the kiln as the electromagnetic signal of ceramic sherds should differ from virgin soil. Therefore GPR surveys at kiln sites can lead to a better understanding of the ceramics industry of medieval Angkor.
Studies from Japan show that traditional kilns can be effectively mapped by GPR (Goodman et al, 1994). GPR has been used extensively in and around the Angkor area within the Greater Angkor Project (GAP) and this research will be continued in December 2008 until February 2009. The talk provides an overview of the method of GPR, survey results of its use at kiln sites, and its potential use and challenges on medieval Cambodian kiln sites. It is expected to present GPR survey results of a known medieval Khmer kiln as well.
Goodman, D., Nishimura, Y., Uno, T. and T. Yamamoto (1994): A ground radar survey of medieval kiln sites in Suzu City, Western Japan. Archaeometry 36, 2, 317-326.

Tep Sokha

Ceramics Conservation

In 2004 and 2005, an EFEO and APSARA Authority team excavated the Koh Ta Meas site at the Western Baray. Koh Ta Meas proved to be a burial site with several graves containing a great number of artifacts dated to early 1000 B.C. The ceramics found at this site are therefore the oldest ceramics unearthed so far in the Angkor area, and they include many type of pots, such as basins, pedestal bowls, water jars, huge water jars, cooking pots, and storage jars.
From 2005 to 2008, the Ceramics Conservation Lab (CCL) cooperated with Christophe Pottier, Director of EFEO Institute, in a long-term project to conserve Koh Ta Meas ceramics.
Ceramics from the excavated site arrive at the Ceramics Conservation Lab as bags of sherds, which go through the following process of conservation: 1- cleaning , 2- matching, 3- assembly, 4- gap-filling, and 5- inpainting. Before these processes can start, the sherds must be examined to determine if they were low or high fired and if their decoration dissolves in water, for the cleaning process differs with different ceramic materials. Pots must never be over-cleaned, removing important signs of use like fire soot or destroying decoration or clay surfaces in order to take away more dirt, because the materials removed can’t be put back again. Hence cleaning is a very important technique and requires skill and care.
Now that the ceramics from the Koh Ta Meas site have been conserved, it is possible to appreciate the skill of the potters by looking at the shapes they formed, the fine thinness of the pots, their decoration, and their large size. These pots are an important part of the Khmer cultural heritage in the Angkor area, and I am so exciting to have had the chance to conserve them. They will soon be on exhibit at the National Museum, and I hope all these ceramics will be very interesting to the general public, as well as to Cambodian and foreign researchers.

Chhay Rachna, Heng Piphal, Chhay Visoth

Standardization in Khmer Ceramic: a case study of Thnal Mrech Kiln Site.

In January 2007 and March 2008, the Department of Monuments and Archaeology of Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA Authority), in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS), conducted an archaeological studies, include mapping, excavating and analyzing the Thnal Mrech Kilns (TMK), their morphology, their productions, their chronology, and their typology. The radiometric dating on various charcoal samples collected from these kilns, suggesting different dates ranging from the mid tenth century to early thirteen century.
The ancient kilns structures (TMK 01 and 02) using a crossdraft technology, as the sloped floors with inclination approximately 27º, so the air intake at the front of the kiln is lower than the exit point at the back, a natural draft will occur, and The higher the exit point take the draft as vent of the kiln.
Amount the surface collection at TMK site and the total of 10,009 artifacts were recovered from TMK 02, could be classified according to Khmer linguistic terms for ceramics, defined by both shape and function, such as Kpoeurng: roof tile, Danlap, Kotth, Khuoch, Ak kambor, and Chan: Small container, Tho, Ka-am, Chhnang, Krala, and Phoeng and Peang: Large containes, and unidentifiable pieces.
Evidences on ceramic walls suggest three techniques used in making pottery at Thnal Mrech, within the decoration which consists of profiles cut into the vessel wall and of combination of lines, motifs incised or impressed, and molding.
In general, glaze observed on ceramics taken from TMK 02 comes in four varieties: common Kulen green, hay yellow, milky white, and light brown. Green glaze is the majority color, but we could think that all of these colors just come from the same glaze, but they had firing in two differences atmosphere (Oxidation/Reduction Atmospheres). The green is the reduced color of the iron present in the glaze and the yellow is the oxidized color of iron, and the clay colors will differ as well, the reduced clay will have a grey or darker color and the oxidized clay will have a light sandy or whiter color.
This presentation is divided into two study ceases. In the first cease we will examine pottery technology: the physical and characteristics of clay and temper and the art of decorated ceramic vessels in clay. In the final we will work out on the standardization hypothesis: We use measurement of standardization in ceramic as evidence for specialized craft production. The analysis and interpretation of ceramic wasters remains at Thnal Mrech kiln Site, in Angkor region, Cambodia, allows archaeologists to accomplish varied result: establish a time scale, document interconnections between different areas, and suggest what activities were carried out at particular sites. These techniques and theories used to bridge the gap between the recovery of ceramics and their interpretation within archaeological contexts.