Ancient Chinese Ceramics from Sri Lanka

Ancient Chinese Ceramics from Sri Lanka
A significant amount of ancient Chinese ceramic ware as hoards of shreds or complete ones has been unearthed from a number of locations in Sri Lanka. Majorly, they belong to the periods of six Chinese dynasties namely; Tang (618-907 A.D.), Five dynasties & ten kingdoms (907-979 A.D.), North & South Song (960-1279 A.D.), Yuan (1271-1368 A.D.), Ming (1368-1644 A.D.), and Qing [(1644-1912 A.D.) Jayasingha, 2014]. 

Although Sri Lankans produced earthenware ceramic since the early ages of its history, they did not develop a tradition of producing high-fired ceramic ware but managed to satisfy their needs with imported ceramic ware mainly from China, one of the world's leaders in the production of high-fired stoneware and porcelain ceramics. Since the beginning of the long-distance navigation of the Indian Ocean, Chinese trade ceramics began to appear in early port centres in Sri Lanka [such as Mathota (Mantai in Tamil)] from about the 8th century. Excavations have revealed Chinese glazed stoneware ceramics, white glazed Hubei wares, and polychromed Changsha wares from a number of localities around the country.
Shards or complete artefacts of Chinese ceramics have been unearthed from both inland and sea coastal sites such as Kayts, Mathota, Vankalai, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Yapahuwa, Colombo, Balapitiya, Galle, Tissamaharama etc. (Jayasingha, 2014). Of them, the earliest Chinese ceramics belong to the Tang dynasty and ceramics of this dynasty have been recorded from some inland Buddhist monastery sites such as Abhayagiriya, Jetavanarama, and Mihintale (Jayasingha, 2014). These monasteries are located in Anuradapura, the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom during the period 377 B.C. - 1017 A.D. Ceramics of the Tang dynasty also have been recorded from Mathota, an ancient port located in the south-eastern sea coast (Jayasingha, 2014).

Ceramics of the Song dynasty are among the prominent ancient ceramics unearthed in Sri Lanka. A minor amount of ceramics of the North Song dynasty have been recorded from Mathota. Ceramics belonging to the South Song have been discovered from sites both inland and coastal. Inland sites include Alahana Pirivena in Polonnaruwa and Yapahuwa in Kurunegala District (Jayasingha, 2014). The coastal sites where these ceramics are found include Vankalai, Allaipiddy, and Jaffna. 

Ceramics of the dynasties of Yuan, Ming, and Qing have been found in places such as Polonnaruwa, Colombo, Beruwala, Galle etc (Jayasingha, 2014).

1) Jayasingha, P., 2014. Sri Lankawe Puravidya sandarbhaya thulin hauwana Cheena meti bandun avashesha / Archaeological Chinese ceramics found from Sri Lanka (In Sinhala). Kauthukagara: 17th Issue. National Museum Department & Ministry of National Heritage. ISSN: 1800-2897. pp.63-76.

This page was last updated on 14 January 2023

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