The cargo

The Ewers

Compared to the number of bowls found (around 184,000), the number of ewers counted (493) during the excavation is considerably lower, but perfectly representative of the essential requirements for a cargo. As they require careful wrapping in bulky packaging, they certainly cannot be embarked in such great numbers, despite the demand for them both for domestic use and for local rituals.

Four different shape groups have been distinguished, probably corresponding to specific uses. Most of the ewers were found at the start of the excavation, in the periphery or upper third of the tumulus, and their glaze has practically disappeared, but the remaining glaze allows us to say with certainty that it was an iron oxide reduction glaze, ranging in colour from yellowy or olive green to almond green. A limited number of ewers was also found at the end of the excavation, in the lowest third of the tumulus. The glaze on these was virtually intact.

Group I (A to C)

This group of ewers has a spherical or ovoid body and a large, cylindrical neck, and rests on a wide, burnished ring foot. Each has a vertical strap handle and a long angled spout. Two small applied vertical loops generally mark the transition between the shoulder and the neck, which is also marked with a double horizontal line (Group I A). Group I B is distinguished simply by the lobed body. Group I C consists of a single type of ewer, very likely from a different factory: these are less well defined in shape, with a slightly convex base, and the vertical handle and spout are much shorter. Overall the ewers in this group vary in height from +/- 20 cm to +/- 35 cm.

Link to Group 1 in the database

Group II (A to C)

Group II consists of pieces very similar to Group I in their spherical or slightly ovoid shape. The bodies may be smooth (Group II A) or lobed (Group II B). These ewers have the same wide, carefully burnished ring foot, the same vertical handle (generally a strap) and the same long, angled spout as those in Group I. The main difference lies in the wide neck, which is not cylindrical but rather flared into a trumpet shape (Groups II A and B) or considerably elongated before flaring (Group II C). These ewers vary from +/- 9 cm to +/- 21.5 cm in height.

Link to Group 2 in the database

Group III

The pieces in this group are completely different from those in Groups I and II. They have a spherical body resting on a ring foot and a short, angled spout. Two pairs of loops on the neck support a flat lid (a few of these were found with the ewers, but a set of lids was found loaded elsewhere in the ship) and two vertical rectangular protuberances pierced with three round holes, probably to allow the attachment of a mobile handle in bamboo or metal. Among the pieces in this group, one set has a carved decoration comparable to the decoration on the finest ewers in Group IV. These ewers vary in height between +/- 13 cm and +/- 16 cm.

Although these pieces are ewers, the presence of a lid that could be closed more or less hermetically is more evocative of the jars designed to preserve macerated or fermented liquids. Several dozen small jars of this type, around 19 cm tall and made in fine stoneware with a carefully applied green glaze, were found in a tomb in Shimacun, an eastern suburb of Guangzhou, dating from the South Han period (911-971) (Archaeological Finds from the Five Dynasties to the Qing Periods in Guangdong, p. 51). Similar objects have also been found sporadically in Indonesia (Museum Pusat, exhibit no. 965 from Pondok Gede, Jakarta).

Link to Group 3 in the database

Group IV (IV A and IV B)

Apparently the largest group, this group consists of pieces of modest dimensions (+/- 16 cm in height) inspired by a metal prototype. Their spherical body rests on a ring foot; they have an elegant angled spout which rarely extends above their small cylindrical neck, and a high vertical handle which flares out in a leaf shape to attach to the body and a tight-fitting lid surmounted with a knob in the shape of a jewel (or a lotus bud). Some lids were also found elsewhere in the tumulus. The ewers in Group IV A have a carved decoration on their bodies, while those in Group IV B have a sculpted or moulded decoration. In both sub-groups the spout is lightly engraved.

Group IV A is smaller in number, but the decoration on these ewers is often of exceptional quality: various floral motifs, or two parrots in a medallion, while one ewer with a faceted body is decorated with figures. The carved decoration, combined with the fine, pale grey paste and fine, clear green glaze, allow these ewers to be attributed to the kilns known as Yue in Zhejiang. Carved decoration was practised here during the Five Dynasties period (the Wuyue kingdom where the above kilns lay submitted to the North Song in 978) and at the start of the North Song dynasty, in particular on pieces sent in tribute to the court of Kaifeng. The cargo also contains some green stoneware boxes, several of which bear similar carved decorations. These decorations Can be seen again with variations on some of the bowls and deep plates in the cargo.

Group IV B consists of ewers with a sculpted or relief decoration of lotus petals or banana leaves, or with several attractive variations of flowers and foliage and an astonishing single flower motif. The two parrots motif is also present. All of these ewers are similar in shape and decoration, although they vary in the sophistication of their execution, and only a more thorough examination of the materials and techniques will perhaps allow us to attribute them to specific kilns.

Several types of lid were also found, with a greater or lesser degree of decoration but all pierced with two small holes so that they could be attached to the handle.

Link to Group 4 in database