10 Million Shards

We are up bright and early and out into the street. We are foraging for breakfast. There are any number of street food vendors plus a few cafe style shop fronts open for our custom. We’ve had a gut-full of intestines for now. We are thinking of steamed buns, but this morning there doesn’t seem to be too many about. We take a walk through the local market, that is down a lane and along a walk way which opens up into a covered market in behind the main street. You wouldn’t know that it is there except for the stream of people and motor scooters that are coming and going along the narrow path simultaneously. It looks like total chaos in there, but is just the normal too-ing and fro-ing of humanity. We realise that we just have to push in and shove our way through, just like everyone else. No-one seems to have the Western concept, that we were brought up with, of taking your turn. it just doesn’t happen like that here. People aren’t being rude. it’s just the way that everyone gets about when there is a crush, and there always seems to be a bit of a crush.

thumb_DSC00561_1024The market is amazing and wonderful, everyone here has been up before sparrow-fart to get all this produce dug, washed and cleaned and laid out here for our delectation. The pigs have been slaughtered and their bits are all here for us to examine, all steaming-fresh and quivering-warm.
The vegetables are almost still growing, they haven’t realised that they are out of the ground yet.
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Something that I hadn’t noticed before was that most of the fish are still alive and swimming in their paddling pool ponds. An aquarium air pump is feeding bubbles to some of them that need to be aerated. The carp don’t seem to need it.
There are bags of toads and live, dressed or cooked ducks, all there together. The ducks are so sweet. I loved my ducks. Always found it hard to wring their necks, but there is no room for sentiment when your survival is on the line. Buying your meat on a plastic bag is a cop out! If you aren’t prepared to see the life drain out of an animal that you have killed with your own hands. Then you don’t have any right to eat meat. toughen up! get over it!. If you aren’t up to it. Become a vegetarian, but don’t live in denial. This is just straight faced honesty. Not nice, difficult, but real.
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We find our breakfast out on the street as always, we have some sort of bread bun crossed with flat bread. very nice, filled with garlic tops and green onions, with sesame seed on the outside. Then some wantons in a clear broth of MSG, chilli oil and soy. After our breakfast we return to the Village Square and start our negotiations with the local drivers with cars to rent. Out driver from yesterday isn’t available today. All the cars for rent are parked around the village monument at the village centre crossroads, even though there are only 3 roads. It’s a village ‘Y’ road, or 3 ways! the monument celebrates the 12 brave tractor drivers who saved the harvest, or the never ending struggle of the the great helmsman! What ever, We try with all our skills to negotiate an arrangement where by we will be driven around all day and returned here afterwards for a set price. Its not the exact amount that is of concern to me. I can agree or decline any offer. It’s more about knowing what the cost will be and having an agreement that we can all respect and live up to with no surprises or unexpected increases.
We are soon off to the little secluded valley where all the oil spot and hares fur bowls that were ever made in the Southern tradition were potted. There must have been many millions of them. If you think that a potter might drop  or otherwise ‘loose’ a pot every now and then. Dropping a pot or chipping the rim. Perhaps the setting melted in the kiln because of over-firing? If the losses were 1% of the turn-over, even if they were 5%. It’s hard to conceive of the mass of broken pots and saggars that litter this site of many hectares. Even to the depth of several metres. They must have made many millions of pots here, because they left behind many millions of shards!
This little valley has been cultivated over 40 centuries to make a flat level centre, contoured to get a steady flow of water across the terraces for irrigation in the growing period and flood mitigation in the wettest part of the year. This area of China, although a long way inland, is still influenced by the monsoon. We are here in this wettest part of the year. We have to get kitted out in our wet weather gear. The valley is surrounded with low wooded hills. We can make out at least 5 sites around the valley edge that have been extensively worked over by looters over many years. As far back as 1930, an American academic was here to do research and the sites were already well and truly dug over by the locals, who are mining the site, extracting what-ever they can to sell to subsidise their meagre living as peasant farmers. When my colleague was last here in November doing research. It was a clear fine day and the sites were covered with locals mining deep into the spoil heaps of shards, some digging down to 3 or 4 metres, all looking for some little gem to sell off at the markets.
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I walk along the road boundary of the lower edge of the the largest site and start to make a plot of the layout in a very general sense. Just so that I can mentally frame my boundaries, then I start to make a visual survey up one edge of the site. Its not possible to walk straight up the slope. One, it is too wet and slippery, and two, the site is so heavily excavated that I’m forced to zig zag along the high spots in the shard piles avoiding the craters. the ‘workers’ aren’t here today, as it is too wet, but all their paraphernalia is left jotted about the slope. Their woven baskets and plastic bags, including their empty plastic drink bottles and cigarette packets. No one seems to have a lot of respect for the site.
The ‘natural’ base here is sticky red clay, it ‘clags’ to my boots and is very slippery. with an incline of about 1 in 4. I have to be really careful not to slip and fall again. I have already taken one slippery fall and damaged my arm trying to protect myself.
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There is no part of the site left undisturbed, so there is no stratification to identify. It’s all in turmoil, and there are some really deep pits that have been excavated to get down to the bottom (early?) layers. I can’t tell. it’s all been dug over so thoroughly that I think that they are now digging through previous rejects, that were not thought to be saleable years ago when the market only wanted intact pots that were slightly damaged, then it was almost whole pots. Now that these gems are all gone, the site is being worked over again to extract large pieces of bowls that are more or less complete on one side. It appears that finding bowls that are melted into their saggar during firing is the prime objective these days. Since the introduction of cheap Chinese manufactured diamond-faced ceramic cutting discs, it is now possible to grind away the saggar to reveal most of the bowl intact. This is something that was not previously possible with just a hammer and chisel.
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As I traverse the site I get a ‘feel’ for what was made here over the period. There are no significant bowls left here, but there are surely 10 million small pieces of broken shards. The terrain underfoot is solid with broken saggars, tenmoku and red clay. Presumably the clay that these bowls were made from? These people were peasant potters, part farmers, part potters. They were very isolated. It was a long walk carrying two woven baskets slung on a pole over your shoulder to move anything from A to B, along the walking path that led along the stream and up into the valley. They wouldn’t have moved cheap raw materials like clay very far. The kilns would have been built up on the non-arable slopes, land unusable for cropping and closer to the firewood source. We collect a small sample of the clay for analysis and photograph any ‘interesting’ shards that come to light and I plod along, bent face-down, staring intently at the small fragments, filtering all the visual information looking for ‘pattern’ and building up an idea of the product that was created here over the millennia.
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What I’m seeing is a preponderance of brown to black hares fur glaze, with tinges of blue and green where it is thicker and has pooled towards the base. It was applied very thinly and is particularly runny. Hence the only partial application of the glaze on the outside, well up from the foot to allow for running. This kind of glaze smacks of high lime content and low amphoterics. In any ‘normal’ circumstances the high iron content would be the amphoteric, but in this case the glaze and body have been well reduced, so all the iron has become a flux. From the fractured pieces of shards that I examine, I’m getting a picture of an early period of oxidation, lasting well into the firing, thus causing the typical boiling of the glaze, followed by intense reduction, causing the running. The body is dark and sandy textured to rough, through to very rough and examination of the fresh fracture surface is very revealing and quite interesting.
We discover something that has not been previously described in the literature, at least not in English. It will sweeten Leo’s PhD and possibly secure his degree?
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There is a lot to take in and so much to learn. This will take a while to decipher. For the time being I’m fully occupied in photographing everything that I think might be interesting to reflect back on later.
Best wishes