Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Ban Bang Pun (Suphanburi) kilns

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The old urban center of Suphanburi along the Tha Chin River in the lower Chao Phraya valley is a find site for coins inscribed "Lord of Dvaravati," referring to the early Buddhist culture complex. Suphanburi developed as one of the principal provincial centers of the Angkor kingdom during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and subsequently it entered the sphere of power of Sukhothai. With Sukhothai's decline, Suphanburi became a center of influence in the western Chao Phraya plain, with strong connections on the peninsula. Its ruling house provided early kings of Ayutthaya (Wyatt 2003, 18, 22, 53, 56–58).

Stoneware kiln sites located near the city in the village of Ban Bang Pun—which follow the model of a stoneware source for an urban center—were excavated 1985–86 by the Archaeology Division of the Fine Arts Department of Thailand (Kong Borannakhadi 1988). The ware is sometimes identified as Suphanburi ware. The principal products were large jars and baluster jars of unglazed blue-gray stoneware, bearing individual stamped motifs on their shoulders or sometimes over much of their bodies. On the shoulders, bands of large rectangular stamps display images associated with royal power-war elephants, warrior with shields, riders on horses, bullocks pulling plows (a royal plowing ceremony?), or wrestlers. Bodhi leaf motifs and deities within arched frames suggest Buddhist associations. Subordinate bands of decoration appear to be executed with small dies of the sort a metalsmith might use—reminiscent of stamps on Angkorian stoneware, as are the small pointed attachments on the shoulder and the forms of the standard vessels themselves. The details of the stamps suggest a jeweller's approach to ornament. They also call to mind the stamped designs on earlier Dvaravati earthenware vessels (Phasook 1985) or on glazed stoneware made in the Irrawaddy Delta kilns in Burma. The Ban Bang Pun kilns also made a range of smaller unglazed vessels, including bowls and bottles.

According to Roxanna Brown's study, jars from the Ban Bang Pun kilns are found on shipwrecks until the mid-fifteenth century (Brown 2004), although one find on the late-fifteenth- or early-sixteenth-century Hoi An shipwreck appears to be a large jar from this kiln—perhaps one that had been in use for many decades (Butterfields 2000, lot 715). Brown mentions that the large jars, presumably used for onboard water and food storage, were sometimes too cumbersome to recover from shipwreck sites, so the evidence may be distorted.

The Ban Bang Pun kiln complex was connected by the Tha Chin River to the old port city of Samut Sakhon, where the river flowed into the Gulf of Thailand. To the west, the Klong River entered the gulf at Samut Songkhram downriver from Ratchaburi. Jars from Ban Bang Pun have been recovered from the Klong, together with large quantities of Chinese ceramics dating to the tenth century through the twelfth century. The presence of Ban Bang Pun jars on early shipwrecks may be related to the trading activities of these port cities prior to or independently of the rise of Ayutthaya as a commercial center.

Jars from the Ban Bang Pun kilns have been identified in the Dong Nai River basin in South Vietnam, the Philippines (Valdes et al 1992), Korea, and Japan (Mikami 1984). One baluster jar, which was kept as a treasure in a shrine in Kagoshima prefecture, southern Japan, was copied by local potters in the nineteenth century (Kira 1993/94–1995).

Sherds of Ban Bang Pun jars were found in association with the early (MON) kilns in Sawankhalok, which Don Hein dates to the thirteenth through fourteenth centuries, and stamped designs were used on early jars made there (Hein 2001, 249). When the Ban Bang Pun kiln site was reopened in 1999, Sayan Prishanchit and Suphamas Duangsakul identified thirteenth or fourteenth century Chinese qingbai porcelain and Longquan celadon vessel fragments in the deepest layer of a waste dump (Ho ed. 1999). Cumulative evidence suggests a date of operation for the kilns from the thirteenth to the mid-fifteenth century.