Dating of an Antique Jar/Any Chinese antiques:- Food for thought ?

Started by Lee Seng Kong, Jun 17, 2017, 15:02:47

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Lee Seng Kong

To exemplify the subject, attached is a photo of a large ?Martaban? jar in my possession.
This jar was dated as a SONG, by our Malaysian museum few decades ago before the similar jar was salvaged from the Belitung shipwreck and dated to the Tang Dynasty ?.around 800BC  by antique scholars from China and Singapore.
So?..could it be that there are two possible scenarios on the conflicting dates, namely-
i)  to classify the jar under Song by the Malaysian Authority is wrong
Note:- This similar jar was not salvage in the Tanjung Simpang ship-wreck dated to Song....but, this may or may not be an indicator.

ii) or??the museum can be correct too, if one makes this assumption.
? Same jars were made during the Tang Dynasty
? When Tang changed to Song Dynasty, the kiln continued to produce the   
          same jars? kiln does not have to cease to operate when a Dynasty
          cease to rule or was defeated by another Dynasty.
If ii) is correct??using a car as an analogy??the same model was produced over a few hundred years!!!

Is this scenario ii) likely to have happened?
And that a continuous production of the same item  should not be classified as either a replica, neither a reproduction.


You are right, many items were produced over centuries, and this is not only valid for those more ancient times. Many items like bowls, etc., for example, were produced during most of the Qing dynasty. So accurate dating is not always possible. When it comes to Martaban jars it is probably even more so as they are not really widely known outside SE Asia and South Asia, it seems.

Lee Seng Kong

Thank-you Peter.

I appreciate it for its simplicity in shape and colour

It is so humbling whenever I look at  this thousand year old jar and I am still amazed how it survived  all these year almost perfect.

Here are some brief and amazing in-sights prompted by this subject.
1) The ingenious people of the Borneo Island are the local ?native?, comprising of the various tribes
In the state of Sarawak, the principal groups are the Ibans (live by the sea) and Bidayus (live inland).
In Sabah, the Bajau (live by the sea) and Kadazans (live inland ).

Some Chinese came to the Borneo Island to set up trading post, most probably since the Tang Dynasty as proven by the Belitung Shipwreck.

So ?just imagine....say a thousand years ago?the Borneo natives in ?loin cloth?, living off the jungle with spears and bow and arrows?yet they were eating off bowls, plates?drinking from tea-cups?.storing food etc in jars?..made in China?... hard to believe?
But then again?..image the natives nowadays,still living in the jungles of Americas, Africa and Asia ??.they are still running around  in ?loin cloth, with spears etc etc??.yet using mobile phone !!!..... boggles the mind?..
2) How did the jars survived intact after a thousand years of usage?
The jars were transported by ships, and during the voyage,they were used as a container for safe-keeping of smaller items stuffed into its belly,
Upon arrival, the smaller items were un-stuffed and together with the jar, traded for local spices with the local natives (living by the sea) who transported up-river to the other inland natives in exchange for spices etc

In those days, Chinese wares exported were ?utility? wares.
In the case of the jars, they were used mostly for storage of water, wine, rice salt.etc. and were stored at the cooking area of the Long House, where, over the years, were covered  with thick layers of sooth and oil, keeping the glaze and colours in near perfect condition

Because the jars are heavily potted, they stay stationary, hence, less likely to be, do not be amazed by the almost perfect condition of the jars

Foot-Note:-Most of the jars  in my collection were collected from up-river journeys to long houses.....quite a dangerous venture ..... stopped doing it since one Chinese Antique dealer was murdered for the money he carried

I trust it is OK to present some in-depth discussion/info. on this Forum.


It seems some of the Dayak value their Martaban jars highly.
Anyway, while Chinese traders probably lived in the area, much of the ceramics were not transported by Chinese ships in those times. The earlier wrecks were mostly of a Middle Eastern and other shapes, pointing to Arab and other traders from South Asia. Junks entered the trade quite a bit later.
The Philippines and Borneo were on one of only two major shipping routes from China southwards. And the eastern one was more important earlier on, it seems.

Lee Seng Kong

You are  correct to say the Dayaks value the jar highly.

As centuries passed, they began to treat the  jars as heirlooms, passed from one generation to another, and as modernization set in, some of  the jars began to be treated  as decorations by the "tuai rumah" (chief of the long house) to be displayed ....whilst others still used them as utility items and keep them in the cooking area.

(General Note:- Whilst the earlier jars from Tang/Song period were mostly simply decorated utility jars used for storage, from Ming onwards, more decorative/colorful jars were also shipped to this region to be sold or presented to the local officials......hence, to generalize Martaban jars as storage jars is erroneous)

Also, it was a practice to use jars  to encase corpse ...and these "burial" jars were then, either tied up on totem poles if the dead was a prominent figure in the community, or trees or laid on the ground for the less prominent....and these jar have large holes cracked into the base for draining out human collectors avoid collecting jars with this type of holes.

Also, some natives also believe the jar have medicinal they chipped of small pieces, ground them down and drink with water....another of my Tang-Song jar display this feature.

Of course, these practices do not exist anymore nowadays.

The immigrant Chinese ( a common practice wherever they go in the world) set up trading posts along river-side and antiques were also used a a medium for trade by the in the remote areas, a sundry shop would display Chinese antiques for sale too and there is no doubt that the Chinese shop-keepers buy/exchange  them for "peanuts" to say.

And, when I bought some antiques from the Chinese Shop-keepers, I also did not have to pay too high a price since the shop-keeper  did not have to opportunity to meet collectors too often.