Making Sense of Broken Pots: The Development of a Typological Framework for Earthenware From 14th-Century Singapore

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

The ubiquitous presence of tempered earthenware vessels in all 14th-century Singapore sites points to its common usage in the daily life across various social stratifications and site functions. However, earthenware assemblages in Singapore are generally highly fragmented resulting in a scarcity of complete vessels. This makes the creation of a typological framework for the identification of vessel forms and their corresponding features difficult to construct. Consequently, tempered earthenware research in Singapore has largely focused on decorative techniques and motifs applied to the ceramics, with limited inter-site analyses to explore the potential that earthenware could reveal regarding the behaviour of local inhabitants. In this paper, the earthenware rim sherds from three 14th-century sites in Singapore are analysed according to their constituent attributes – clay fabric, form, and decoration, to identify non-random attribute combinations. Assuming that potters had standard methods of production that they consistently followed, attribute combinations and distribution patterns should be useful in identifying multiple artefact-types within an assemblage. Using this approach, allows for the development of a typological framework that permits inclusion or redefinition of artefact types based on the new data. The correlation between attributes can be re-evaluated according to the statistical significance of their relationship. The varying frequencies of these combinations across the sites could indicate similarities and differences in site function and the activities carried out by inhabitants. Based on this typological analysis of tempered earthenware, this paper explores aspects of clay preparation by local potters, the common dining practices of the inhabitants, and potential distinctions between the activities carried out within and between archaeological sites.