Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Ban Tao Hai (Phitsanulok) kilns

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As the name Ban Tao Hai suggests, this "village of kilns for jars" formerly engaged in the production of stoneware vessels for a market centered around the old town of Phitsanulok, located down the Nan River in Phitsanulok province. Together with Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai, Phitsanulok was a provincial center of the Angkor kingdom from the eleventh century onward and later an important city within the sphere of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya rule (Wyatt 1982, 22). The Buddhist image housed at the central monastery, built in 1357, has been a long-standing focus of pilgrimage.

In 1984 five crossdraft kilns were identified at the site, and one was excavated (Hein and Prachote 1985). Don Hein interprets the brick-built kiln as an extension of the kiln technology used in the late phase of activity at Sawankhalok (LASW) and therefore dating to the fifteenth-sixteenth century. Radiocarbon dates from charcoal samples, however, yielded a calibrated age of 1360 +/- 70 (Barbetti and Hein 1989, 64).

Characteristic products of the kiln were large stoneware jars, either unglazed or iron-glazed with four lugs (resembling jars from Sawankhalok; one glazed jar relates to the long-necked form said by Mukai Kou to have been made until the end of the fifteenth century Mukai 2003; see Maenam Noi). The baluster-shape unglazed jars bore applied designs at the base of the neck and on the shoulder, fashioned from thin clay coils formed into motifs with an elongated pointed midsection and both ends coiled inward. Additional decoration was incised or impressed with the tip of a combing tool. Jars with this type of decoration were also made at Sawankhalok and Sukhothai kilns. Isolated stamped pictorial designs and "potter's marks" on some jars distinguished them as Ban Tao Hai products. Round bottles of various sizes, basins, mortars, and grating bowls were also made.

Concave lids with knobs, which were made of earthenware (or low-fired stoneware clay) like the lids also found at Sawankhalok and Maenam Noi, were probably intended for use with the large jars. Many sherds of round-bottomed earthenware pots were recovered from the vicinity of the excavated kiln, but their production may have postdated kiln activity and represent a later industry in the village.

Since Phitsanulok lies upriver from Ayutthaya, and closer to that city than either Si Satchanalai or Sukhothai, it is not impossible that some of its storage jars and cooking pots may have been sent south to the port city, in a manner parallel to the development of the Maenam Noi kilns.