The cargo

Besides a series of bowls (over 2,000 in number – currently being classified) from the kilns in the north of China, the divers also found among the cargo a very small number of items of very high quality clearly evocative of Liao ceramics (907 – 1125) from the second half of the 10th century. Made in a reddish paste (with a lead glaze) or a whiteish paste (with a lead glaze or white glaze, perhaps on an engobe), these pieces perfectly illustrate the tastes of this dynasty of Qidan origin which reigned over the north and north-east of China following the Tang dynasty. Pieces of this type are of course much rarer in archaeological sites in the Malay Archipelago than ceramics from the kilns in Zhejiang or Guangdong.

The cargo also included three ewers made in a reddish paste. The first, with a spherical body lightly pinched into lobes, has an applied decoration of circles and palmettes. It has a short, angled spout and its vertical ribbon handle is broken. It once had a matching lid which was not found. Some minute traces of brown glaze (possibly applied over a white engobe) still remain on the body. A second spherical ewer with a lobed body has a vertical handle perpendicular to the axis of the spout. Finally the smallest ewer is of a design inherited from the Tang dynasty. It is in the shape of a double hulu gourd with a flat base. Its handle and spout are broken and the glazes have worn away.

Three wide mouth bowls with two applied rolled handles and a relief decoration of small circles around the sides are reminiscent of the style of the applied decoration on one of the ewers, in its simplest form.

A single gourd in the shape of a goat skin with a relief decoration represents the first stage of one of the favourite Liao designs which was developed in the workshops in the north of China until the 12th century.

The two zoomorphic containers found have exceptionally vigorous contours. The near-total loss of their glaze gives us an idea of the colour of the paste but the photos we are working from do not allow us to be certain of the type of glaze.

The parrot-shaped ewer made in a reddish paste, perching in repose with its beak open and its wings hanging down, on a two-level ring base, was found on one of the very last dives. There is a tube in the bird’s back for filling the chamber; it once had a vertical handle, now broken. Some details of the plumage are represented by carved lines. There is a ewer of this type in the Meiyintang collection, with green and brown glazes.

Great precision, and an admirable sense of the way the shapes combine – these are the qualities which governed the fashioning of the container in the shape of a hind (?), lying down with its legs folded underneath it and its head turned to one side. It is made in a whiteish paste; the long ears have been added on, the bulbous eyes stand out in sharp relief; the top of the head is decorated with a motif that might be a flower or a mushroom.

Two rectangular moulded pillows were also found, with identical decorations of a lying deer and floral motifs. They are among the most characteristic items produced by the Liao kilns. One is made in a reddish paste, and seems to have had a lead glaze; the other (in pieces) seems to have had a white engobe intended to lighten the colour of the paste.

Four pear-shaped bottles with long necks and cupped lips, in white porcelain with a white underglaze, were also among the cargo. These bottles are of quite exceptional quality. One of them, item A 10 944, made in a whiter paste, with a rounder shoulder and shorter neck, may have come from a kiln in Hebei, while the other three bottles may have been produced in the Liaoning kilns. Their paste seems to have slightly more colour; their necks are higher and you can see a series of regularly spaced carved lines. Other lines visible on the body might indicate where the two sections of the body were joined during their manufacture.