A Martabani jar from South-East Asia on Orwell Beach

The remains of an unusual and exotic ceramic vessel collected from an area of the foreshore around Orwell Beach near Shotley, Suffolk has been brought in to us for identification by Claire Lambert, after it was found by her nephew, Dan Lambert

Interior view of the Martabani jar from Orwell BeachThe pottery has been identified as part of a Martabani stoneware storage jar, coming all the way from South-East Asia. These large containers were made in a variety of places including south China, Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia, as well as other countries in Indo-China. They were traded by the Arabs from Martaban, which lies on the eastern coast of Myanmar, on the Andaman Sea. They were not directly traded with north-west Europe but went mostly to the Philippines and Indonesia. In the seventeenth century the trade in Martabani jars was taken over by the Dutch East India Company.

Base of Martobani jar from Orwell Beach

The recovered fragment comes from the base of such a jar, and is crudely made in a grey stoneware. The outside is covered in an overall dark brown glaze, whilst the interior mostly has a lighter brown glaze.

 Illustration of complete Martabani jar with detail of rectangular cartouche

This jar is a rare find for this country. It is most likely to have been used as a water or oil container on board a ship, as other examples have been found on shipwrecks. Its date cannot be established without further investigation, but Martobani stonewares are known in collections of pottery in the Netherlands dating to the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

A complete example dating to 1600-1625 can be seen in the van Beuningen-de Vriese Collection in Rotterdam. This image of the complete vessel and accompanying description is reproduced from Hurst, J. G., Neal, D. S., and van Beuningen H. J. E., 1986, Pottery produced and traded in north-west Europe 1350-1650, Rotterdam Papers VI.

Suffolk Archaeology CIC would like to thank Jacqui Pearce of MOLA for confirmation of the identification.