Thai ceramics are ranked among the finest in the world. Because of the small number of remaining written records, ceramics have helped historians to find out more about the history of the Thai people.
Ban Chiang : Prehistoric Pottery
Ban Chiang is on the Korat Plateau in north eastern Thailand. It is the plateau where the discovery of beautiful thousands year-old pottery were found. Previously this area was thought to be an uncivilized backwater, although it actually possessed a highly developed culture that had a great impact on the whole region. The deepest levels at Ban Chiang can be dated to B.C. 3,600. The early pots are undecorated or have simple pressed or incised patterns. The ones from later periods are superbly shaped vessels of buff color clay decorated with swirling, fingerprint-like designs. Besides pots, Ban Chiang made many types of ceremics such as vases, jars, animal figurines, ladles, crucibles, phalli, spindle whorls and beads. Unglazed, low-fired pottery has been found at other sites throught Thailand. One of the major ones is at Ban Kao in Kanchanaburi province, north eastern of Thailand. From Ban Kao, the historians found distinctive earthenware pieces including tripod vessels with hollow tapering legs. Another site with particular fine examples was unearthed in the 1980's at Ban Prasat. Ban Prasat ware is typically in black or red clay. The pieces have less decoration than Ban Chiang, but the shapes are equally distinctive.
When Ban Chiang wares first appeared, they were priced very high in the antique markets of the world. This resulted in a flood of cleverly repaired and repainted pieces as well as "genuine fakes". The fake Ban Chiang pieces were made in the same way and from the same materials by skilled craftsmen. It is extremely difficult to tell the real from the false without examination by an expert.
The Thai people were thought to have moved south from China moving down from South China into Vietnam, Laos and finally theChaopaya River Basin. There then followed a long period of Khmer rule. The Thai people finally broke free from the Khmer yoke in the 13th century. The Great Thai King Ramkamhaeng of Sukothai was the founder of the modern state and was the King that brought potters from China to set up the famous Sukothai kiln.
Around 1300, Sukothai established itself as one of the more important Thai kingdoms. The quality of the ceramics improved during this period and the demand for fine ceramics, from ceremonial use to building materials increased greatly. There were kilns at various places like Pa Yang, Goh Noi, Sukothai Town, Pitsanuloke and Nakorn Thai. In some of these places, the historians found that many kilns were built, especially at Goh Noi, the oldest site. It is estimated that there were betweem 600 to 800 kilns built over the centuries thoughout this region.
Si Satchanalai or Sawankaloke Kilns
There are also records of the kilns of Si Satchanalai that are believed by some to have started even before Sukothai kiln, perhaps as early as the C10th. This is the Goh Noi and Pa Yang Kiln Sites. Their Domestic wares included:
Earthenware - coarse, sandy earthenware shards with cord-marked, stamped or incised decorations; round-bottomed pots, kendis and jars.
Unglazed Stoneware - reddish or gray bodies, unglazed stonewares. Some of them were partially glazed with fly-ash from the fuel; vases with wide, flat shoulders and narrowing down to a small button-foot, short neck and trumpet-shaped mouth.
Mon Wares - roughly made from iron-black clay full of impurities, dishes have flat bottoms, non-glazed on outside, rich olive glaze.
Underglaze black - large dishes with underglaze black decoration, well drawn floral or fish design in the center, thinly potted. There were stem-trays, bowls, kendis and animals, mythological and human figurines.
Celadons - high-fired stonewares, covered with a natural feldspathic, wood-ash glaze with iron. Colors are dark Jade greens or deep olive-green, but can vary to nearly white, gray, honey yellow or brown. The best celadons of Sawankaloke are a beautiful sea-blue-green. Since celadon glaze is difficult to control and has a critical maturing point above which it melts, the glaze is often not applied down to the foot. If applied to the foot, it tends to run down unevenly and thickly and might stick to the support. Celadons are heavily potted dishes, bowls and stem-trays.
Underglaze Black Decorated Wares - finely potted, thin, transparent glaze or grayish, with green or milky blue tinge, brownish black or gray black underglaze iron decoration. There are covered boxes, mostly round boxes in different sizes from three to eighteen centimeters. Some are in the shape of a bird, frog or crab. Floral or leaf decoration are common.
Brown and Pearl Incised Wares - applied brown glaze only, the pattern was incised into the body. There are covered boxes and miniature jars.
Brown Wares - rich honey or dark brown glaze, similar look to celadons but range is much smaller. The common objects are small pear or gourd shaped vases with two handle. There also are bowls and jars.
White Wares - white glaze both in cream and white, heavily potted, similar to celadons
Later Ceramic Wares: Singburi and Ayuthya Wares
The great years of the ceramics industry of Thailand clearly fell between the 14th century and the middle of the 16th century. This was a period of great prosperity both for Ayuthya and LanNa in the north of Thailand. During the later Tak period, historian found more remaining ceramics from Sukothai , Lan Na and the Golden Age of Ayuthya periods.
In 1569 during a large Burmese attack, many constructions were destroyed and resulted in the end of the great Sukothai ceramic industry. The new kilns were built at Singburi around the year 1600, but produced only coarse utilitarian goods. Chinese wares were imported into the country to fulfill the need for pottery and porcelain.
Many types of earthenware and stoneware were made in Singburi during the Ayuthya capital period. Generally, Singburi wares were jars with looped handles, covered with a lack-lustre brown glaze. In 1767, there was another attack from Burma which caused many kilns to be destroyed and greatly decreased production of Thai ceramics from this area.