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Ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the Perfume River

TTH.VN - Speaking of the Perfume River - a poetic river ranked among the most beautiful in Vietnam, it is no wonder that everyone has heard numerous anecdotes about its beauty, yet very few know that under that river lie countless artifacts reflecting the history of the land. And, among those thousands of artifacts, ancient potteries still dominate due to their universality and durability over time.

The bamboo pole erection ceremony at the Thai Family Ancestral House of Prof. Dr. Thai Kim LanHuong River Museum of Ancient Pottery officially establishedThai Kim Lan’s cultural space for the community

 Exploring ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the Perfume River

Memories of Hue 

Such artifacts, which make up an important part of Hue’s memories, were left in the river. Countless ancient pottery artifacts, such as vases, wine pots, wine jars, kettles, bowls, plates, bases, lids, lime jars, water vessels, urns, sinkers, etc., have been salvaged from the riverbed.

These are relics that are closely linked to, and, specifically and accurately reflect the daily lives of local residents through historical periods, from the time they learned to make pottery and grow rice thousands of years ago until the present. Also, they reflect the process of communication and exchange between regions and countries worldwide.  

The most typical collectors of this unique type of artifact include the late researcher Ho Tan Phan, the late painter Thai Nguyen Ba and his sister, Professor Dr. Thai Kim Lan.

Mr. Phan began to grow interest in and collect ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the Perfume River after 1975. With his strange passion and tireless efforts, he has built an extremely rich collection with tens of thousands of many types of artifacts with different dates, from the pre-Champa period (before the 2nd century), the Champa period (the 2nd-14th centuries) to the Dai Viet period (14th-18th centuries), the Vietnam and Dai Nam periods (1804-1945) and the period of 1945-1975. 

The late painter Thai Nguyen Ba and his sister - Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan have been passionate about ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the Perfume River since 1984, and over the past 40 years, they have collected thousands of precious artifacts out of thousands of items salvaged from the river bed. One being a painter and the other being doctors of philosophy yet owning a a soul of artist, they only choose intact, highly aesthetic items according to their own perspective, which is dissimilar to researcher Ho Tan Phan’s way of collecting.

For that reason, the collection of ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the Perfume River of Mr. Thai Nguyen Ba – Ms. Thai Kim Lan is not only valuable but also very attractive. However, this collection is still full of all kinds of crockery, pottery, semi-porcelain, and porcelain artifacts, representing most historical periods. And due to special circumstances, a number of valuable artifacts of the researcher Ho Tan Phan were integrated into this collection, making it even richer and more precious. 

According to the research conducted by Dr. Nguyen Anh Thu (Hanoi University of Culture), thousands of sharpened stone axes, bronze arrows, bronze bracelets, beads, earrings, etc., of prehistoric humans, tens of thousands of pottery artifacts dating back to the period of Sa Huynh and Dong Son, the thousand years of Northern domination, the period of Champa, the period of Ly - Tran - Le - Nguyendynasties, as well as those from Chinese and Japanese foreign trade, Southeast Asia, Europe, etc., have been salvaged from the bed of the Perfume River and other rivers in Hue since 1975. 

With huge reserves of artifacts, the Perfume River deserves to be the largest “archaeological relic” in Hue, a “living” history of the ancient capital. Evidence of vibrant life along the banks of the Perfume River thousands of years ago is partly reflected in ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the riverbed. 

The cultural ‘sediment’ of many periods 

According to Dr. Anh Thu, ancient pottery artifacts salvaged from the Perfume River are generally rich and diverse in terms of material, type, function, origin and date. The quality of ancient pottery artifacts ranges from affordable to high-end. However, the most commonly encountered items are necessary ones in the daily lives and activities of local residents, such as cooking and eating utensils, objects for religious activities and containers.

Notably, on the riverbed of the Perfume River, there are many crockery originating from the crockery production kiln in Phuoc Tich (Phong Hoa Commune, Phong Dien District), dating from the 17th to 18th centuries. The evolution of potteries here reflects the process of formation, settlement and interaction of many population classes from the Sa Huynh - Champa - Dai Viet cultural period in the Perfume River basin, suggesting many new research topic for historians and cultural scientists who want to study this land in relationship with other lands in Vietnam and in the South Asia region. 

With tens of thousands of artifacts of terracotta, crockery, porcelain, and glazed ceramics belonging to the periods from the Han Dynasty to the Nguyen Dynasty, as well as hundreds of pottery artifacts of foreign origin salvaged from the rivers present in the typical collections of collectors such as Mr. Ho Tan Phan, Ms. Thai Kim Lan, … the cultural richness of this land are clearly reflected in each type of artifact.

According to Dr. Nguyen Van Quang, Vice Dean of the Faculty of History (University of Sciences, Hue University), the Perfume River is an important waterway connecting the West and the East, the mountains, the plains and the sea (vertical), as well as the North and South banks (horizontally). Based on archaeological documents discovered on the banks of the Perfume River, it can be seen that this trade route appeared very early in the history of the Perfume River - Ngu Mountain region, from the late Neolithic period, early metal period to Sa Huynh - Champa - Dai Viet - Dai Nam culture and today. 

Through the Perfume River, goods from the West down and up from the East will be gathered at trading points (usually located at the river confluence), in which, the current location of Tuan market (Thuy Bang Commune, Hue City) was considered an important gathering and exchange point along the Perfume River in the past. The commercial products were very rich and diverse, from forest products in the western mountainous areas, such as agarwood, ivory, honey, pepper, bamboo shoots, etc., to products from coastal and delta regions such as pottery, iron, bronze, seafood, salt, etc. Among them, potteries were quite popular, especially in the 17th - 19th centuries (the period of strong development of pottery kilns). In addition, during the process of residing and doing daily activities, local residents left many potteries into the river, creating the cultural sediment of many periods.

Story and photo: PHAN THANH
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