Bronze Casting in Tampawaddy and the Historical Archaeology of the Mandalay Region

Independent Scholar, SOAS Alphawood Alumni, Myanmar

This presentation discusses how the study of present-day bronze casting in Myanmar is being used to investigate the antiquity of casting methods. Bronze casting or ‘Pan Tae’ is one of the traditional arts known as ‘Pan Sel Myo’ or ‘Ten Flowers’. Each flower represents an artwork, with many types produced over centuries as part of the successively well-maintained culture of Myanmar. The styles of these artworks are significant chronological markers but little research has been done to link them to landscape and society. Although the initial tradition of casting bronze originated in India, uninterrupted and artistic mass production of objects supports the presence of local workmanship in Myanmar. It is in this context that the processes and techniques used in casting are explored in Tampawaddy, one of the most significant places for past and present bronze casting in Upper Myanmar. Tampawaddy has been a central workplace for bronze casting since the Amarapura Period (1789 CE), but the origins and differences in bronze and Pan Sel Myo workshops and technology need in situ research before we can understand the true antiquity of bronze working here. This paper compares several workshops to highlight the differences in location and history and how the manufacturing techniques of casting bronze statues has altered over time. Three key questions are addressed by the current research on ancient workshops in Tampawady: how did the tradition of casting bronze images in a religious aspect begin; how did this tradition last for many centuries; and what is the role of the skilled man in the process of casting bronze artefacts? Answering these questions provides insights into the origin and manufacturing techniques of the ‘Ten Flowers’, and this in turn yields new understandings in the historical archaeology landscape for the local and wider region.