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The Official Website of
Sarawak Museum Department
Ceramics Ceramics



The Sarawak River Delta is the major site where thousands of ceramic sherds have been discovered and excavated since 1948. Most of them dated from 11th to the 13th Century A.D. Majority of course originated form the motherland of ceramics, China, and also some from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Europe.

The discovery of ceramics provides the evidence that this coastal area was once an important trading centre as early as at 11th century A.D. where traders from China, India and other neighbouring countries began to arrive in Borneo to trade. champor, beeswax, birds' nests, hornbill ivory and other exotic products are traded for textiles, beads, ceramic and brassware.

The earliest indigenous ceramics were found and excavated from the West Mouth site in the Niah Great Cave. These ceramics are plain and undecorated large jars or urns, bottles and other special funerary vessel with round and globular body. All are coarse-tempered earthenware, handmoulded, thick bodied and low fired. A previous study by Barbarra Harrison concluded that most of the ceramic vessels were in connection with the Neolithic burials either as containers for cremation or as funerary gifts.

It was once a tradition of the Melanau community that when a Melanau died, the body was dressed and laid out in the house. A blue and white plate was put under the head, while smaller ceramic plates were placed under the hands and feet. Placed near the body were some brass objects and a string of ancient blue glass beads was then tied around the wrist. A few days later, the body was taken out of the house and kept outside for a minimum period of a year.

This is where the large jar came into the picture. The bones were then collected and placed inside the jar. The rest of the plates, bowls and beads were then buried as the gravegoods with the jar containing the bones.

All the excavated artifacts have formed an important source of material for study in the Sarawak Museum and they are classified into nine major classes based on their glaze colour and clay body (texture).


  Name Explaination

White Wares Sherds with basically white colour, although varying from grey-white to green- white, in many cases and including Ch‚ing-pai, Ying-ch'ing and "Marco Polo ware".

Temmoku Sherds from bowls with a very dark brown or black glaze, often called "temmoku", and like the Chin-yao bowls from Fukie

Coarse Stoneware Include sherds of coarse stoneware from very large jars to smaller, but still coarse jars and jugs.

Yueh types Sherds with a thin putty-green to blue or grey-green in many instances resemble the Yueh ware described by Gompertz.

Green glazed wares Sherds with a thin bright glaze which contains lead.

Siamese wares

Mainly sherds of Sawankhalok celadon thick plates and dishes, decorated with incised or carved decoration under the glaze and with burnt reddish brown on the foot.

Celadons Sherds with a thick olive to blue-green glaze of the type usually associated with the Sung Dynasty Lung-ch'uan kilns.

T'zu Chou wares

Sherds of the ware usually termed T'zu Chou, with decoration in dark and/or light slip under plain or green glaze.

Blue and white wares Sherds with transparent glaze bluish tone, undulating slow flow containing a haze minute, almost invisible bubbles and the body greyish white translucent porcelain.