Medallion from Sukhothai underglaze fish plate T-717.

Turiang: a 14th century Chinese shipwreck, upsetting Southeast Asian ceramic history


The Turiang is one of several 14-16th century wrecks discovered in the South China Sea by Sten Sjostrand. All carried ceramics and offer new insights into this glorious period of maritime trade in Southeast Asia, and in particular into the history of Thai ceramics. The Turiang was a Chinese ship with a multinational cargo of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese ceramics, apparently heading for Borneo and/or Sulawesi. The wreck is tentatively dated to AD 1305-1370. This is one of the earliest shipwrecks yet discovered with Thai export ceramics. The find prompts a reassessment of the relative importance of the two major production centres at Sukhothai and Si-Satchanalai. It also proves that almost-identical black underglaze ware was available simultaneously from Sukhothai and Vietnam.

Turiang's ceramic significance

The Turiang suggests that:

  • Decorated underglaze ware from Thailand and Vietnam was popular before Chinese blue-and-white
  • Longquan celadons were fired on tubular supports, identical to those later used at Si-Satchanalai
  • Sukhothai was in production earlier than previously thought
  • Sukhothai was not always a minor producer; initially it was a volume exporter
  • Sukhothai was exporting before the 'Ming ban'
  • Sukhothai developed independently of Si-Satchanalai
  • Sukhothai was achieving higher firing temperatures than Si-Satchanalai in this period
  • Know-how on high-temperature firing and above-ground kilns may have been transferred from Sukhothai to Si-Satchanalai, rather than the other way around
  • Sukhothai was exporting before Si-Satchanalai produced mature celadon
  • Si-Satchanalai may have started to produce mature celadon later than previously thought
  • Both Sukhothai and Si-Satchanalai may have benefitted from the expertise of refugee Chinese potters.

The Turiang and other ship sites together suggest that the early dominance of Chinese ceramics in export markets during the Song and early Yuan dynasties was threatened by vigorous competition from Vietnamese and Thai producers from the 14th century onwards. Chinese involvement dwindled further in the late 14th and early 15th century, following the 'Ming ban'.

The ceramics sections of this preliminary report are as follows:

Ceramics background & issues

The ceramics on Turiang

The importance and interest of the wreck goes beyond the ceramics. General readers may be interested to read this site in the order of the navigation bar, and that is the order in which we will guide you through it. Those interested specifically in the ceramics will find other relevant comments in the following sections:

Several wrecks investigated by Sten Sjostrand have represented a useful time series for interpreting the history of Thai ceramics. A brief summary of the findings, and a chronological chart, may be found in 'other wrecks'. Reference will be made to those other wrecks in the course of this report. Names were given to each ship by the excavation team, by association with the ceramics carried or with their history (in this case, with the 'Turiang kiln sites' in Sukhothai); original names, if assigned, are unknown. Images on this site have been chosen with regard to download times; many can be clicked to obtain a larger or higher-quality version.

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Last modified:
15 Nov 2001