via Sapiens, 10 August 2023: Focusing on a specific discovery in Ujir, eastern Indonesia, this article explores the complex relationship between pottery and people’s identity in archaeology, discussing how pots were made, the way they symbolize cultures and the evolution of porcelain.
Back on the island of Ujir, the fragment of the porcelain bowl we found provided some hints about the buried person. In context, it was clearly a prestigious belonging: rare and visually stunning compared to the local pottery. But I could tell it was a later copy.
On the base was something resembling a Chinese character, though it meant nothing. This was for customers who knew to look for a mark but could not read Chinese script.
Yet, on Ujir, the bowl would have been special. Archaeologists usually find local pottery on the island made over an open fire, sometimes decorated with incised patterns, but always the same earthy colors. Porcelain could only be obtained from far away—and not cheaply. So, such vessels usually show up as treasured heirlooms, as offerings in sacred places, or in burials.