Part Six: Discussion of Artifacts: Chinese Ceramics

John Miksic

April 2003

Earthenware (probably Chinese)

Lead has been used as a flux in the Near East, where this technology may have first been employed; Myanmar; Java during the Majapahit period; Vietnam; and China. This technique enables potters to impart a glaze to earthenware bodies. The SCC site yielded lead-glazed earthenware probably made in China. This pottery contains coarse temper, creating a brittle body similar to that of stoneware. Some sherds have a white slip beneath the green glaze.



Chinese stoneware in Singapore is normally divided into four main types: purple ware; tempered or brittle; buff; and mercury ware. The mercury ware category is actually a sub-category of tempered brittle ware, but because it is so ubiquitous, it has been classified separately. It is believed that most of the stoneware found in Singapore was made in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, but not enough research has been conducted on the mineralogy of Chinese stoneware of the Song to Ming period which would enable us to verify this hypothesis, or to link specific artifacts to specific kiln complexes in China.

Mercury ware

or small-mouthed bottles were used to contain various commodities; some have been found at sites in Singapore with lime still inside them. The original use for which they were designed is almost certainly to contain mercury. They were so common and cheap that in Singapore they were sometimes discarded while still intact. A dozen intact mercury jars were found at OPH. They were probably made at one or more kiln complexes in the Quanzhou area, including Cizao. They were fired to a relatively high temperature; their fractures are quite sharp-edged. In the Song-dynasty site of Kota Cina, their mouths and mouth area were decorated with chocolate brown glaze, but in Temasek-period Singapore their mouths are almost always unglazed. At Fort Canning, out of 147 rims of this ware excavated, only 16 are glazed (Wong 2016: 11). Their bases are quite thick and narrow; their bodies become thinner as they proceed upward. The top area around the mouth is quite thin, and often the clay slumped downward. This was obviously of no concern to the potters; these were purely functional, not decorative vessels.Their interiors show quite clear grooves created during the potting process. Their light gray bodies contain large particles of a black mineral.


Tempered or brittle ware:

This designation is used to refer to high-fired ware which resembles mercury ware in some ways. It is high fired, with sharp-edged fractures, and contains much coarse sandy temper. Most objects of this type are large flat-bottomed storage vessels. Some still bear traces of watery green glaze. They have lugs for tyeing down lids, usually made of wood. They have no other decoration. The bodies are usually light gray, though sometimes they exhibit a light brown or buff color. Another form of brittle ware has been called “grating bowls”. As the name implies, these are bowls with deeply incised lines in the interior forming a grid pattern. These have also been found at Kota Cina. Brittle tempered ware at SCC aside from the mercury bottles is relatively scarce compared to untempered buff ware. At Kota Cina, the proportions were approximately equal. At other sites in Singapore, brittle tempered ware is also less common than at SCC, but comprises a larger share than at SCC. The reason(s) for this are unknown. This difference may reflect different use of the SCC site; sampling error; or the chronology of the SCC site, which may have been used for a relatively shorter time than the other sites excavated in Singapore. Trading patterns may have fluctuated through the decades; the communication links with the areas of China where buff and brittle ware were made may have grown weaker or stronger at various times. It is thought that the buff ware was made in Guangdong; this assumption led archaeologists working on Chinese stoneware found in Sarawak to refer to this type as Kwangtung Ware (Zaini and Harrisson 1967; Wong 2011, 2016). It has since been asserted that this type of ware was also made at Jizhao in Fujian province.



Grating bowls:

Buff Stoneware:

This ware contains little or no temper. The bodies of these vessels are much less dense and therefore lighter than the brittle ware. The color of the body is usually lighter. The exteriors are usually glazed, and the interiors often have a kind of purplish-brown wipe, the purpose of which is unknown. Most of these vessels are flat-bottomed storage jars, though basins (broad shallow vessels) are also found. The jars sometimes bear stamped decorations on the exterior, consisting either of dragons or Chinese characters. Another form of decoration consists of applique in the form of dragons. Fragments of this motif were found at SCC.


Applique dragon:

This is a relatively common form of decoration found on Song-Yuan buff jars.

  • DSC03750-51 TP I 8 Reg Nos 00632-00633-0634-0635 .



Purple Stoneware:

This ware is rare but present at Kota Cina and several sites in Singapore. Only one sherd of this ware was found at SCC. It is the base of a jar. The exterior of the flat base which is 7 cm in diameter has spiral marks which suggest that it was cut from the potter’s wheel with a cord. The paste of the sherd contains fine white inclusions of chalky material. The lower part of the body is over 1 cm thick, but the material is not dense; it is approximately of the same consistency as buff ware. The bodies of these jars are cylindrical; the rims have a triangular flange around the mouths, which are approximately of the same diameters as the bases. An intact example of this ware was found at Tuban, the main port of the kingdom of Majapahit in the 14th century. Chinese archaeologists attribute this ware to Fujian.

Purple stoneware jar in Museum Kambang Putih, Tuban, Indonesia
Purple stoneware jar in Museum Kambang Putih, Tuban, Indonesia


The porcelain from SCC can be assigned almost entirely to the Yuan period. It is difficult to be entirely certain of this conclusion, since green porcelain of the early Ming was almost identical to that of the Yuan. It is much easier to distinguish between blue-decorated white ware of the Yuan and that of the Ming, but very little blue and white ware of either type was found at SCC. This suggests that the SCC site was not used for a very long time. A total of 6,762 pieces of porcelain were recovered from SCC; their weight of 32.587 equivalent to 17.39% of all artifacts from SCC by number, and most coincidentally, 17.39% of all artifacts by weight!

The importance of porcelain in historical archaeology of Southeast Asia is disproportionately great. It can provide more precise dates for sites during the past millennium than other methods such as radiocarbon, since particular examples from China can be dated by their discovery in dated tombs, and sometimes by inscriptions or depictions in dated paintings. Porcelain was made in many forms, for many uses. It was produced at numerous industrial complexes in China, can theoretically be used to study links between sites in Southeast Asia and specific locations in China. Unfortunately, no precise methods have yet been devised to assign many porcelains to their kiln of origin. Some kilns were more famous in China than others, and inferior products can often be traced to specific localities. However, some secondary kilns became quite good at imitating the middle and lower ranges of production at the major kilns, so one cannot always be sure of the origin of any particular piece. In this project, we did not attempt to categorize porcelain by their placae of production. In future there may be new analytical methods which will make this degree of precision possible.


Various names have been developed by collectors to refer to types of porcelain, usually identified by colour. The term “celadon” has been used to refer to porcelain with a particularly attractive bluish-green colour. The best–known source of this ware was Longquan, an area in Zhejiang and northern Fujian. This categorization is however too imprecise for use in a typology such as is used here, and relies on too many unverified assumptions. In this report, the term “greenware” will be used to refer to porcelain in the many shades of green which have been found at SCC.

Green porcelain forms by far the largest proportion of porcelain at SCC: 5,407 pieces; weight 30.338 kg. 16.1% of all artifacts by weight; 12.34% of all artifacts by number. Greenware comprises 80% of all porcelain found at SCC. This ware assumes many forms and exhibits many decorative motifs. It would be possible to subdivide the greenware into categories by shape, decoration, size, and a wide range of other criteria. More human resources would be needed to do this than were available for this project.

The main forms of greenware are bowls. Other forms include large plates, small saucers, and squat jars with lids. (For an example of a sherd from a large squat lidded jar or guan, see Reg No. 00038, TP1 8, photos DSC03660- 65).

A particular dark yellow coloured porcelain is sometimes called “golden celadon”. It seems likely that this colour was not often intentionally produced. Green porcelain is usually created by starving the kiln of oxygen, which leads to a process called reduction in which oxygen is sucked out of the glaze. If too much oxygen is present,the glaze sometimes turns yellow. Examples of this ware are rare but present at SCC (e.g. Reg No. 00049, TPI 8; photo DSC03608; Reg No 00057 TP1 7; 00057 TPa; 00057 TP1 7b).

Methods of decoration include incising, stamping, applique, carving, and molding. Decorations at SCC are limited to a narrow range including floral designs and double fish (e.g. Reg No 00053, which is also a golden celadon bowl). Some examples have traces of slip under the glaze.Iron spots were sometimes used on green wares of the Yuan Dynasty; some have been found in Riau, and a sherd of a jarlet with iron spots was found on Fort Canning, but no sherds of this type of ware were found at SCC.

  • Reg No 00007 DSC03728 DSC03729 TP1 8 (bowl base, concave with no foot ring, spiral décor on interior)
  • Reg No 00009 DSC03698 DSC03699 DSC03700 TP3 7 (poorly glazed, unglazed stacking ring, coarse incised décor on exterior)
  • Reg No 00012 TP1 7 DSC03575-8 (bowl rim, fluted exterior)
  • Reg No 00013 DSC03690, DSC03692 TP3 7
  • Reg No 00014 TP1 8 DSC03572-3 (bowl rim, molded plaintain leaves on exterior)
  • Reg No 000016 DSC03731 DSC03732 DSC03734 TP2 9 (base, bowl, grooved exterior, molded fish on interior)
  • Reg No 00017 TP2 13A DSC3563, DSC3564
  • Reg No 00018 TP1 10A DSC03587-9 (rim, molded exterior)
  • Reg No 00020 TP1 7 DSC03582-3, 03592-4 (left) (rim, poor quality bowl)
  • Reg No 00022 TP1 8 DSC03584-6 (bowl rim, carved plaintain leaves)
  • Reg No 00023 TP1 13A DSC03563-71
  • Reg No 00025 DSC03559 TP 1 8 00024 (conjoined, plantain leaf motif)
  • Reg No 00027 TP1 7 DSC03595-6 (right) (bowl rim, fluted exterior)
  • Reg No 00032 TP1 12A DSC03579-81 (bowl rim, medium quality, plaintain leaves)
  • Reg No 00033 TP1 8 DSC03614-15 (body sherd, thick, grooved exterior)
  • Reg No 00034 TP1 8 DSC03592-4 (middle) (saucer rim, incompletely glazed on exterior)
  • Reg No 00035 TP1 8 DSC03590-91 (golden coloured bowl rim, incised lines beneath rim and on interior)
  • Reg No 00037 DSC03624-25-26 TP1 11A
  • Reg No 00038 TP2 8 DSC03616, DSC03618-19 (thick base, carved foot)
  • Reg No 00039 DSC03611, DSC03612, DSC03613 TP2
  • RegNo 00040 TP2 9 DSC03620-21 (base, incised décor on interior)
  • Reg No 00041 DSC03635, DSC03637, DSC03638 TP1 3 (bowl base, incised exterior)
  • Reg No 00042 DSC03640-43 TP2 8 (bowl, unglazed stacking ring)
  • Reg No 00043 DSC03630 TP1 8 (rim of unusual object, perhaps a vase)
  • Reg No 00043-00045 DSC03627-28 TP1 8 (00043 is an unusual shape, perhaps a rim; 00045 is the coarsely-made piece of a flat base)
  • Reg Nos 0047 TP3 8 0048 TP3 7 DSC01386-8 (two conjoined pieces; incised décor, molded fish.)
  • Reg No 00048: DSC03695, DSC03697 TP1 7 (base, unglazed stacking ring)
  • Reg No 00049 TP1 8 DSC03608-10 (golden coloured bowl base)
  • Reg No 00051 TP1 8 DSC03592-4 (right) (bowl rim, flaking glaze on exterior)
  • Reg No 00053 TP1 8 DSC03710 -13 (bowl base, golden celadon, molded fish)
  • Reg No 00054; DSC03741 TP1 10A (golden celadon bowl, fluted exterior)
  • Reg No 00055 TP2 7 DSC01379, DSC01382-3 (base, flaked glaze on interiror, slip visible on exterior)
  • Reg No 00056 TP1 8 DSC03725 (bowl base, golden celadon, molded fish)
  • Reg No 00057 TP1 7A 00057 TP1 7a; 00057 TP1 7b (golden celadon base)
  • Reg No 00058, DSC03660-65 TP1 8 (unusual, massive body, probably of a large flat-bottomed squat jar. The interior base has disappeared; apparently it was made separately and luted to the foot)
  • Reg No 00059 DSC09941-3 TP1 10A (rim of plate)
  • Reg No 00060 DSC09958-60 TP1 10A (rim of bowl, molded plantain leaves)
  • Reg No 00061 TP1 10A DSC09961-2 (rim)
  • Reg No 00063 TP1 10A DSC09948-51 (saucer rim)
  • Reg No 00065 TP1 10A DSC09945-7 (high quality bowl rim, thinly potted, thick glaze, molded plantains on exterior)
  • Reg No 00071 TP1 10A DSC09952-4 (medium quality bowl, carved plantains on exterior)
  • Reg No 00074 TP1 10A DSC09955-7 (rim, pinhole in shiny glaze)
  • Reg No 00080; DSC06959; DSC06961 TP1 11A (bowl rim, geometric incised décor; closeup of bubbles in glaze)
  • Reg No 00081, 00086; DSC06964; DSC06965 TP1 11A (rims; 00081 is golden celadon)
  • Reg No 00286 TP1 11A DSC09974-5 (bowl rim)
  • Reg No 00291 TP1 11A DSC09981 (bowl rim)
  • Reg No 00324; DSC06951; DSC06952 TP1 10 (rim of plate)
  • Reg No 00332 DSC06943 DSC06944 TP1 10 (bowl rim, horizontal incised lines on exterior)
  • Reg No 02981 02984 02986 02983 02982 02985 DSC00040-1 TP3 7 (body sherds; 02985 has molded fish with scales)
  • Reg No 03026 DSC09795-7 TP1 7 (lid of small jarlet; fluted exterior, interior unglazed, brown slip)
  • Reg No 03027-8 DSC09798-9800 TP1 7 (body sherds of small bowls; 03028 on left has intricate floral motif; 03029 has carved interior décor)
  • Reg No 03955-03956 DSC09614-5 TP2 8 (body sherds from vases/jarletss; 03956 is heavily ribbed in the exterior)
  • Reg No 04043 04984 04088 04090 04089 04091 04092 04095 04096 04097 DSC00051-2 TP 1 9 (body sherds)
  • Reg No 04621 TP1 8 DSC09992-3 (bowl lower body, poor quality; unglazed stacking ring on interior)
  • Reg No04633, 04650, 04654, 04655, 04660, 04661, 04662, 04664, 04666, 04674, 04680, 04673, 04666, DSC00001 (miscellaneous sherds)
  • Reg No 04650 TP1 8 DSC09990-1 (bowl rim, incised horizontal lines on exterior)
  • Reg No 04651 TP1 8 DSC09983-4 (grooved body)
  • Reg No 04657 TP1 8 DSC09988 (body sherd, incised décor on interior and exterior)
  • Reg No 04658, 04663, 04651, 04657, 04676, 04670, 04667, 04656, 04668 TP1 8 DSC00002-3
  • Reg No 04671 TP1 8 DSC09985-7 (golden celadon, conical point on exterior base, molded fish on interior)
  • Reg No 04675, 04665, 04669, 04672, 04652, 04671, 04659, 04676, 04697, 04674, 04672, 04677 DSC00004-5, DSC09997, DSC09999 TP1 8 (body sherds)
  • Reg No 04678 04679 04681 04682 04683 DSC00006 TP1 8 (body sherds)
  • No Reg No; on loan to Indian Heritage Centre. DSC07314-5 TP1 3 (bowl based, unglazed stacking ring, incised floral motif on interior base)
  • No Reg No; on loan to Indian Heritage Centre: DSC07316 TP1 11A (lid)
  • No Reg No; on loan to Indian Heritage Centre DSC07318 S0 (surface find) (bowl, incised design on cavetto, floral motif in centre of base)


1,352 pieces; Weight: 2,249 grams.

Whitewares were made in many parts of China over a long period, before greenware became popular. White porcelain during the Yuan and Ming periods was reserved for more delicate objects. It was not used for large objects such as plates; it was used for some normal-sized bowls, but these were often decorated with finely molded décor. Whiteware was also used for such ceremonial objects as incense burners, and for luxury items such as pillows and figurines. Some white porcelain with a bluish tinge was highly esteemed; it was known as qing bai, “shadow blue/white”. White was also favoured for round covered boxes with lids.

It seems that white ware was made with two different materials. Some white objects are very thin, hard, with sharp fractures, bone white color sometimes called blanc de chine, and fine decoration. Other white objects are made of much softer material which was fired at a lower temperature, almost earthenware in texture, with buff bodies and creamy off-white or yellowish buff glaze. This type of material was mainly used for covered boxes and bowls with molded plantain leaf décor on the exteriors. The significance of this difference is not known; they may have been made a different sites. The best known white ware kilns during the Yuan period were located at Dehua in Fujian Province, and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province. Dehua was known for its bone-white china; Jingdezhen was famous for its qingbai.

During the Yuan Dynasty, potters experimented with putting coloured designs on a white background. The most common was cobalt blue. This was the most popular and least expensive variety. It was only produced for the foreign market during the Yuan period. Other colours included black spots made with iron, and red designs produced with copper. The copper red was extremely difficult to control; few pieces of it were made, and the practice died out in the Ming Dynasty. No copper red was found at SCC. One sherd of iron spotted qingbai was found at SCC. Only two Yuan sherds with cobalt blue were found at SCC and only two Ming sherds with the same blue decoration were found there. Cobalt blue was more common at all other Singapore sites; this is one of the major differences between SCC and other Temasek period sites excavated. The significance of this difference is difficult to ascertain.

Hard Paste:

  • Reg No 00003/00029 TP2 6 DSC01353; 01356 (covered box base, molded exterior décor, unglazed rim)
  • Reg No 00004 DSC03653-57 TP3 8 (bowl, molded interior décor)
  • Reg No 00011 DSC01321 lower left; DSC01322-01324, DSC01326/01328/01329 TP3 7 (bowl base)
  • Reg No 00015 DSC03595-6 (left) TP1 10A
  • Reg No 00197 DSC03597, 03599/03600 TP1 8 (bowl base)
  • Reg No 00241 DSC09630/ 09633/09635/09636 TP1 8 (cup, pie-crust rim)
  • Reg No 00256 DSC09815-6 TP1 8 (upper right: rim, unglazed; probably fitted with a silver rim originally)
  • Reg no 00280 DSC09803-4 (right) TP3 7 (body of bowl)
  • Reg No 00281 TP3 7 DSC09803-4 (left) (Jarlet; décor of raised paralle lines)
  • Reg No 00290 DSC09963-4 TP1 11A (rim with body decorated with molding on exterior; unglazed interior rim)
  • Reg No 00292 DSC09976-7 TP1 11A (rim, unglazed lip)
  • Reg No 00293 DSC09978-9 TP1 11A (rim of bowl)
  • Reg No 00300 DSC03752-3 TP1 9 (base with high foot, incised circle on interior)
  • Reg No 00622 DSC09623/09624/09625/09626 TP 1 10A (molded décor on exterior; base, probably for a covered box)
  • Reg No 00624 TP1 12A DSC09807-8 (left) (base of covered box)
  • Reg No 00625 DSC09807-8 (right) TP1 12A (base, molded décor on exterior)
  • Reg No 00627 DSC09619-9620, SCC, SCC B TP1 8 (qingbai lid)
  • Reg No 00654 DSC04033-6 TP1 11A (box base with milled design on exterior)
  • Reg No 00658 DSC03758 TP1 10A (this and the next group of pieces are all parts of an octagonal lid for a box, with elaborate molded décor on the exterior. They belong to the same object, but were found in different spits.)
  • Reg Nos 00660, 00670. DSC03755-7. TP 1 8
  • Reg Nos 00661, 00662 DSC03759-62 TP1 9
  • Reg No 00663, 00664 DSC03755-7 TP1 8
  • Reg No 00665 DSC03673 TP1 8
  • Reg No 00670. DSC03755-7. TP 1 8
  • Reg No 00667 DSC01369-01370, 01372/01374 TP1 7 (Iron Spotted Qingbai)
  • Reg No 00671 DSC01346/01347, 01351 TP3 7 (bowl with carination, qingbai glaze; this type of bowl is usually termed shu fu. This elaborate form is characteristic of the Yuan period.)
  • Reg No 00677 DSC01335 DSC01336-01342 TP1 9 (Fragment of Figurine)
  • No number (loaned to Indian Heritage Centre) DSC07350, 07352-53 TP2 (no unit recorded; surface find) (large bowl, molded décor on interior)

Soft Paste:


White with Cobalt Blue Decoration: