Part Three: Finds General Description

John N. Miksic, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, and Goh Geok Yian, History Programme, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University.

April 2003

Distribution of Artifacts

  • TP1: 4.5 x 2 = 9 sq m
  • TP2: 1.5 x 2 = 3 sq m
  • TP3: 2.6 x 2 = 5.2 sq m

Discoveries

Colonial Era:

The upper soil strata (mainly spits 1-7, 0-70 cm below ground level) contained few items, mainly associated with the period of British occupation beginning in 1819. The keepers of the green have evidently been effective in preventing littering on the Padang.

The few colonial-period items recovered, mainly in spits 3-7, included coins, ceramics, and some items associated with military personnel. Among the latter, two types of artifacts can be assigned to the early period of British colonization: gun flints and percussion caps. Documents indicate that at the beginning of British settlement in Singapore, soldiers were quartered on the Padang. These gun flints and percussion caps may have been lost or discarded before formal military quarters were designated for the troops in Singapore.

Some precolonial artifacts were also discovered in the top 70 cm of the excavation, mainly in Test Pit (TP) 1. The top 10 cm were sterile, i.e. no artifacts were found in this layer. About 100 objects were found between 10-20 cm below the ground surface (spit 2). No artifacts were found in this level in TP2 or TP3. In TP1, more precolonial artifacts began to appear between 20 and 30 cm depth: 160 items. TP2 was still sterile at this level, but 6 small items were found in TP3. At depths between 30 and 40 cm, 14 items were found in TP1, and 57 in TP2. Spit 5 (40-50 cm depth) was sterile except for 39 artifacts in TP3. In spit 6, the number of finds rose to 85 in TP1, 382 in TP2 and 245 in TP3. Spits 7 and 8

The colonial artifacts mainly consisted of coins, fragments of European and Chinese ceramics, and fragments of tiles and bricks.

Important Colonial Period Artifacts:

  • Gun flints: TP2 spits 4/ 5: 2 examples. These were standard parts of British army rifles until the 1840s. Photos: SCC TP2 4 5 GUN FLINTS; SCC TP2 4 5 GUN FLINTS B

  • Percussion caps from musketoons: 13 examples. These were found in TP1 S3 (1 example), S5 (3 examples), S6 (8 examples), and TP2 S7 (1 example). These objects are part of the firing system used by a short-barreled guns called musketoons in European and American armies, especially naval and cavalry units. They were invented around 1820, and replaced the flntlock system in the British army in the 1840s. They were used until the 1860s. Photos SCC TP1 6, 6B, 6C, 6D.

  • Spent rifle cartridge: TP1 S3. This is probably an artifact of the early 20th century. Photos DSC09735-36

  • Coins: Two coins were found in Spit 5. These consist of a 1960 10-cent piece from British Borneo (in TP1), and a 1-cent piece without a clear date in TP2. Two coin-like objects were found in TP1 Spit 6, but are too degraded to identify.

  • Ceramics: A few examples of Chinese and European pottery were found. Most of these date from the 19th century. A quantity of fragments of brick and tile was also recovered.

Temasek Period:

The density of artifacts in the Temasek layer of the site was very high (about 5,154 artifacts per M³) and comprised a wide variety of types. Most of these (almost 80% by weight) were Chinese artifacts from the 14th century. These consisted of stoneware, a utilitarian material used mainly for storing perishable commodities, and porcelain, finer ware used for eating and display.

Stonewares of the Temasek period made up 62.5% percent of all SCC artifacts by weight, but only 23.3% by number. This discrepancy is explained by the fact that stoneware vessels tend to be large and relatively crude; porcelain objects are small and refined. Chinese stonewares of this period are conventionally divided into three types: untempered buff ware, tempered ware usually gray in colour, and a third category, mercury ware, which is probably a subtype of the tempered ware. On the classification of Chinese stoneware from the precolonial period in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, see Miksic (2017b).

Much of the stoneware at the SCC site consists of remains of a single type of artifact: relatively tall (25cm) bottles with small flat bases, tapering outward to broad shoulders, with a a small mouth (about 1 cm in diameter). These objects are sometimes called “small-mouthed bottles” by Chinese archaeologists. Their function is still a matter of controversy. They are found in many sites in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Java of the 12th through 14th centuries. For further literature on this material, see Miksic 2013: 310-323; Wong 2011, 2016; Xu 1981; Treloar 1974).

Chinese porcelain is divisible into three main types based on color: green, white, and white decorated with designs made from cobalt blue, or red or black made from iron. Green porcelain is the most common by far in all sites in Singapore, comprising 80% of the Chinese porcelain found. All but a tiny proportion of the rest of the porcelain consists of white ware. Porcelain with cobalt blue or iron black decoration comprises a very small proportion of the total.

The blue and white category is important because it is relatively easy to distinguish between those pieces made between 1328 and 1352, the late Yuan Dynasty, and those made in the Ming Dynasty (divided into early Ming from the late 14th century through the early 15th century; the middle Ming, approximately 1435-1488; and late Ming, which can in turn be assigned to the reigns of various emperors). The Yuan and the early to mid-Ming are each represented by a few sherds.

The decorated white ware makes up a much smaller proportion of the Chinese ceramic assemblage at the SCC site than in any other Temasek-period site in Singapore. There are several possible explanationsfor this. One is plain sampling error, due to the small size of the area excavated. A second possible reason could be that the people who lived or used this site belonged to the lower echelon of society who were not able to afford this more luxurious, expensive pottery. This interpretation is however contradicted by the fact that Chinese porcelain would have been more expensive than local earthenware; according to the data, Chinese porcelain of the green and white varieties is more common than earthenware. A third explanation would be that the nature of the activity conducted here did not involve the use of decorated white porcelain. At the present stage of research, this seems the most likely explanation. The large quantity of stoneware from the site, and the amount and nature of metal items found at the site support the interpretation that this area of the Padang was mainly used for metal-working. The very small proportion of porcelain dating to the Ming period also suggests that this area may only have been used intensively during the early to mid-14th century.

Number of Temasek-era artefacts excavated, by general type. Total number of objects: 38,386
Number of Temasek-era artefacts excavated, by general type. Total number of objects: 38,386

Locally-made earthenware pottery comprised 17.1% of all artifacts by weight, but 40% by number. This contrast is explained by the fact the earthenware is light in weight and tends to break into many small pieces due to its fragility. The majority of the earthenware belonged to round-bottomed storage vessels. Rims of cooking vessels were present but not numerous. Fragments of crucibles used for metal-working were also found in this category of pottery.

Some earthenware was imported to Singapore from three foreign sources. One type, with a green or yellow glaze made with tin or lead flux, comes from China.

A second type, called Fine Paste Ware, probably was made in southern Thailand, at the site of Pa-O. Similar pottery has been found in Sumatra, Java, and on shipwrecks such as the Java Sea and Maranei. Most of the artifacts made of this material took the form of the kendi, a water ewer or goblet, usually with a long neck which enabled the object to be grasped, and a spout to pour the water out. Historical sources indicate that Temasek had a close relationship with south Thailand; a 14th-century ruler of Singapore was said to have been married to a woman from that area.

A third category is similar to Fine Paste Ware, but contains much iron oxide which turns the clay dark red or orange in color. These sherds probably came from east Java. These sherds are significant in that they demonstrate the existence of contact with the empire of Majapahit, which claimed Singapore as a fiefdom in the 14th century.

The rest of the artifacts from the site largely consist of metal. Most of this category is found in the form of slag, the byproduct of extracting iron from its ore. In addition to iron, a few items of copper, tin, and lead were also recovered. Important among these are Chinese coins which can be dated to the reigns of specific emperors. Most of them predate the 14th-century Temasek period; they were doubtless brought to Singapore decades or centuries after they were minted.

A few glass items were discovered. These are rare in all Temasek-period sites except for Fort Canning. The fact that even a few were found at SCC is important because it shows that these were mainly but not exclusively associated with high-status people.

Two categories of stone objects were found: worked, and unworked. The natural soil of this site consists of layers of sand and clay. Stone is not a natural component of the site; all pieces of stone found here must have been intentionally brought by humans.It is impossible to account for the presence of of the unworked stones at the site, but a few pieces of stone were shaped by humans. Among these, the most important are a trough-like object which probably was used for some industrial purpose; and a stone peg, the purpose of which is a mystery.