The Martaban Jar from the San Diego Shipwreck

martaban jar
Martaban Jar | @museumxstOries (Text by Bobby Orillaneda)

The Martaban Jar from the San Diego Shipwreck

Among the San Diego shipwreck inventory are large stoneware jars called Martaban jars. The term Martaban jars have been previously known to connote large Asian storage jars. This notion has been rectified as ceramic scholars ascertained that Martaban jars are a specific name designating exclusively a class of ceramic jars produced in Lower Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Martaban is a city port in the Gulf of Martaban region that was the capital of the Mon Kingdom from the late thirteenth and first half of the fourteenth century CE. The capital later moved to Pegu but Martaban remained an active trading port until the middle of the sixteenth century CE. During its heyday, historical sources mentioned the port was a famous commercial center from which a large number of merchandise, including large, stoneware jars from all over Asia were loaded for export, leading to the mistaken belief that the jars were manufactured in the Martaban area.

Its sturdy quality made it in great demand for both domestic and international markets as a storage container. Besides the Philippines, this type of jar was found in a number of Asian and European shipwrecks in Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya, St. Helena, as well as in terrestrial sites in Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines.

The Martaban jars from San Diego consist of large jars with dark red stoneware bodies and numerous inclusions. These are covered by a generally black glaze of uneven thickness. The decoration is made of light-colored clay in low relief, either stripes or rows of buttons resembling rivet heads. Thin beads of light gray clay outline the base of the neck and divide the belly into panels. The lower part of the body and the base is unglazed, as is the interior, except for a few splatters of glaze on the inner surface. The shoulders are broad and high and taper towards the base.

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