Discovering Asia's ceramic development

The Nanyang ship (+/- 1380)

Sisatchanalai celadon jar, lid missing, height 13.5cm
Sisatchanalai celadon bowl, diameter 17.5cm
Sisatchanalai celadon spouted jar with 'frog feet', diameter 17.5cm
Chinese storage jar, with minute traces of black glaze, height 20cm
Blackish-glaze storage jar from Maenam Noi, height 28.5cm
Chinese storage jar, traces of black glaze at rim, height 33cm
Sisatchanalai celadon cups, heights 5 and 5.5cm
Sisatchanalai celadon jarlets, heights 7, 7 and 7.3cm
Border decoration from 'Royal Nanhai' celadon
Border decoration from 'Royal Nanhai' celadon
Onionskin cavetto decoration from 'Royal Nanhai' celadon
The decorations above were drawn from Royal Nanhai artefacts, but these patterns also appear on Nanyang pieces.
Sisatchanalai celadon plate N-063, diameter 29cm
Reverse of plate N-063

This wreck was discovered in 54 metres of water, 10 nautical miles from the nearest Malaysian island. Only the surface of the site has been investigated, but the ship appears to be of 'South China Sea' type. This represents a mixture of traditional Chinese and Southeast Asian shipbuilding features, perhaps the result of Chinese settlement in Southeast Asia(1). The ship was quite small, possibly around 18 metres long with a beam of 5 metres.

The Nanyang has hull planks joined by wooden dowels - similar to boats built nowadays in Terengganu. Her ceramic cargo is well organized, in cargo compartments separated by transverse bulkheads. This site has not yet been excavated, but four hundred ceramic pieces were recovered for study purposes. These are mainly early Sisatchanalai celadon. They include ring-handled jars, large celadon plates, smaller bowls and earthenware. Storage jars are from Thailand and China.

The Nanyang is one of the earliest ship discoveries with Sisatchanalai celadon. She may have sailed soon after celadon production started at the Sisatchanalai kilns, which seem to have switched entirely to the new product: no underglaze decorated ware from Sisatchanalai is found on the Nanyang or the later Longquan wreck.

Surface scars caused by a spur disc can be seen on many of the celadon plates from the Nanyang. This early system, in which ceramics were stacked one above the other, was soon abandoned at Sisatchanalai. It was previously thought that these kilns had already abandoned the use of spur discs by the time celadon was introduced.

Incised decoration for celadon plates on the Nanyang is relatively simple: a single border, and 'onionskin' or lotus petals on the cavetto. Foliated rims are found - eg the example with spur disc scars - but there are few in this cargo, whereas there are many in the later cargo of the Royal Nanhai . On the plate shown to the left, note the relatively wide foot ring, with shallow recess, and scar from a wide-diameter tubular support. The glaze 'drapery' shows that firing was at a high temperature. The clay is pasty; Sisatchanalai potters had yet to find the finer grey clay seen in the later celadons of the Royal Nanhai.

The tall narrow lug-handled storage jar seen on the right is from the Noi river kiln site (Maenam Noi) in Thailand's Singburi province. The earlier Turiang does not have jars like this; later wrecks do. Large storage jars from Suphanburi, similar to those on the earlier Turiang and later Longquan, have been seen on the Nanyang site. One of the Chinese storage jars on the Nanyang is shown bottom right.

  1. More information on ship construction may be found on the topic page 'Ships & shipping'.

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