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A mums’-and-dads’ dig

(No.2, Vol.2 Feb 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Householder Mr Dang Ngoc Anh found pieces of ancient ceramics on 20 September, 2010, when he was digging in his garden in Gò Sành neighbourhood in Phu Binh Village of Tinh Chau Commune in Son Tinh District of the south central province of Quang Ngai. The find was two metres underground and it was made accidentally during excavation for an underground, composting gas generator, Mr Anh said. [This was not an archaeological moment, in the most fastidious sense. No mention is made of mapping the positions of the objects, or their being photographed. There is no mention of a thought to have desisted from digging till archaeologists had explored the site.]
I went to Mr Anh’s house when he and his wife were washing hundreds of pieces of ceramic they had found.
‘My wife and I know these are significant for researchers, so we informed the commune officials immediately after we found them,’ Mr Anh said. He added that he and his wife had been happy when the district and provincial officials had come and said these valuable objects would be placed in museums for scientists to do research to get to know more about this area.


Mr Anh, right, and an official from Tinh Chau Commune with the ceramic pieces found at Gò Sành.

Mr Anh’s neighbour Vo Than, 68, said, ‘This area has long been known as Gò Sành (Gò means a hill and sành is a kind of ceramic) because there are lots of ceramic pieces.’ Mr Than has some broken pieces of ceramic, including a broken pot, that he found about 1.5 metres down when he was digging a well in 1986.
Gò Sành is more than 1 ha, neighbouring Gò Gốm (gốm means ceramic). Both places are residential. They are about 500 metres southeast of Châu Sa, which is an old Cham town recognized as part of the national heritage.


Pots closer up.
Photos: Huynh Van My

Having observed an archaeological excavation at Gò Gốm in 2008, in which only part of a ceramic stove was found, Mr Anh and his neighbours said they had wanted to know more about the origin of the ceramic objects at Gò Sành.
Mr Anh said, ‘There has never been an [archaeological] excavation at Gò Sành. That was why I was so happy when I found old ceramic objects there.’ [It is not known to us whether old objects have been dug up on the quiet. When we asked a Vietnamese journalist, he was not able to say what the laws on found objects were.]
In two days, Mr Anh and a few others dug further and found more than 20 ceramic objects quite intact, along with hundreds of broken pieces.
The objects include small pots, a lime pot, a salt mortar, a pestle and many jars of different sizes. The small pots were eight centimetres in diameter and six centimetres tall. Some vessels were just two millimetres thick, but strong. When struck, they produced sounds like metal.
Dr Doan Ngoc Khoi, Director of Quang Ngai Province’s General Museum, said, ‘No archaeological excavation in southern central Vietnam, from Danang to Binh Thuan Province, has found as many ceramic objects as Mr Dang Ngoc Anh has.’
Dr Khoi said no objects from the lode Mr Anh had entered had previously been discovered, they could date to at least the 16th century and were all pottery rejects. Most were hand-built, some made on the wheel. Small, tall jars, all hand-built, were of a kind often seen at ceremonial sites and tombs.
Small jars and small pots found with decorations including depictions of fire and a chicken head were typical of the Cham civilization. Big pots and big jars with flat bottoms were made on the wheel and the use of the wheel was a Vietnamese method the Cham had adopted. [The Cham civilisation rose in eastern Indochina in the middle of the first millennium and declined in the middle of the second millennium, according standard sources.]


Pots closer up.
Photos: Huynh Van My

Dr Khoi said, ‘These newly found ceramic products bearing Cham-Vietnamese features indicate the Vietnamese-Cham coexistence and symbiosis and development together during the period when Vietnamese people moved and cultivated further south in the 15th and 16th centuries . . .’
‘In the near future, Quang Ngai Province’s General Museum will organize excavations at Gò Sành to find more information about an old ceramic kiln believed to be underground in that area, and to decode more aspects of the period when the first Vietnamese people moved and cultivated southward.’

Based on text by Huynh Van My, with pictures by Huynh Van My and editorial notes in italic
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