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Thailand Sawankhalok Ceramics Found in Philippine Shipwrecks [dated from the 15th to 16th centuries CE]

Thailand Sawankhalok Ceramics Storage Jars Found in Philippine Shipwrecks [dated from the 15th to 16th centuries CE]
Poster by Nero Austero | NMP MUCHD

These jars are stoneware produced mainly in two production centers: the Si Satchanalai kilns at Si Satchanalai district, Sukhothai province in northern Thailand and the Mae Nam Noi kilns at Bang Rachan district, Singburi province in central Thailand. The jars are essential ship cargo owing to their sturdy built and durability as well as their multi-purpose function as container for liquids, marine and forest produce, manufactured goods and also as trade merchandise.

The Si Satchanalai ceramics, also known as Sawankhalok ceramics, produced many kinds of high-fired, glazed (black, brown, green, and white) and unglazed ceramics. These appear in the form of storage jars, dishes, bowls, bottles, jarlets, boxes, kendi, vases, figurines, water droppers, lamps, lanterns and architectural ornaments among others. 

Storage jars from the Santa Cruz shipwreck
Storage jars from the Santa Cruz shipwreck

Archaeological excavations uncovered more than 600 updraft and cross-draft kilns found near riverbanks, built on brick foundations, and covered with laterite. The Si Satchanalai ceramics, especially the celadon (green-glaze), were heavily exported from the 14th to middle 16th centuries CE and widely distributed in shipwreck and terrestrial sites in Southeast Asia and Japan.

Storage Jars from the Santa Cruz shipwreck
Storage Jars from the Santa Cruz shipwreck

The Bang Rachan or Mae Nam Noi ceramics are generally stoneware jars, bowls, mortars, bottles, vases, mortars, and pots. The kilns were operational during the 15th century CE until after the fall of the Ayutthaya kingdom during the Burmese-Siamese War in 1765-1767. 

The main source of information for the Bang Rachan ceramics comes from the archaeological excavations in 1986 and 1988 in which six cross-draft kilns made of bricks were uncovered. Some kilns overlay older kilns, suggesting continuous usage. Each kiln can accommodate more than 500 objects in each firing. These produced either glazed (yellowish-brown) or unglazed jars, vases, clay water pipes.

Storage jars from the Lena Shoal shipwreck
Storage jars from the Lena Shoal shipwreck

In the Philippines, both Si Satchanalai and Bang Rachan storage jars were found in 15th century shipwrecks the Pandanan, Lena Shoal, Santa Cruz and San Isidro as well as the 16th century San Isidro and Kanduli sites. The most common types include large, ovoid jars; medium, ovoid jars; and elongated jars. The large ovoid jars consist of wide, short neck with round everted rim, a narrow short neck with a round lip, a high neck and a trumpet-like mouth rim or a long neck with a large everted rim. The medium ovoid jars have two handles on the shoulder, short necks with an everted rim and incised lines around the shoulder and the body. The elongated jars have short necks that end in a flaring mouth and four horizontal lugs on the shoulder. The glazes normally cover from the mouth until the lower half of the body.

Archaeological study is very important in supporting accurate interpretation of past events, which helps in reconstructing our history. When a site is disturbed or pilfered, we lose information forever without the significant context to assist us in piecing together our story. This is much more valuable than the selfish individual’s monetary gain or enriching their personal collections. 

Our heritage and recounting its narrative through material culture benefits future generations and our aspirations as a nation. If you see or have knowledge of sites being looted, report to your local government authorities immediately or contact the closest NMP office near you.


Text by Bobby Orillaneda and poster by Nero Austero | NMP MUCHD

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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