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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Chinese
Title: Ma-chang Pot
Date: Late Neolithic Period (ca. 2300-2000 B.C.)
Medium: Handbuilt painted earthenware
Dimensions: 18 1/2 x 17 x 19 inches (47 x 43.2 x 48.3 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of the Wunsch Foundation, Inc.
Object Number: 94.045
Label Text: Strikingly painted Stone Age pottery vessels like this one were once referred to as morturary urns because they were originally found in cemeteries. However, recent evidence from excavations of complete Neolithic habitation sites in northern China indicates that large urns like this example functioned first in the real world as communal granary vessels before they assumed their symbolic role in the afterlife. Hand-built with great care by the coil process, this handsomely crafted large urn is made of the characteristic buff-colored clays found throughout a large area of northern China. The checkerboard-like pattern within a circle painted on the shoulder, and the cross-hatch strokes on the neck are design features common to pottery vessels from Banshan and Machang, two excavated sites in northwest China that can be dated to the last phase of the Neolithic, around 2000 B.C, just before the dawn of the Bronze Age. (From “A Handbook of the Collection: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art," 1998)



BRIEF DESCRIPTION
This is an urn made by the Yangshao culture. The Yangshao were millet farmers who practiced shamanism and produced two types of ceramics: coarse wares for everyday use, and refined ceramics for special occasions and ceremonial use.

WHERE WAS IT MADE?
This jar was made in a region of China that today is divided into the Gansu and Qinghai provinces.

HOW WAS IT MADE?
This vessel was hand-built using the coiling technique. Ropes of clay were rolled out, then coiled and fitted together to form the basic shape of the vessel. Using their hands and some basic tools, potters then flattened, and thereby strengthened, the walls to the desired thickness. Handles, neck, and sometimes even large sections of the body were luted together, and then the surface was smoothed. Painted decoration, confined to the upper portion of the vessel, was applied using mineral based slips (liquid clay). Firing at temperatures between 800 and 1050 degrees Celsius baked the pigments onto the surface. These slips were not true glazes that would protect the surface or make them durable, but “paints” whose function was purely decorative.

HOW WAS IT USED?
Strikingly painted Stone Age pottery vessels like this one were once referred to as mortuary urns because they were originally found in cemeteries. However, recent evidence from excavations of complete Neolithic habitation sites in northern China indicate that large urns like this example functioned first in the real world as communal granary vessels (likely holding millet, the primary grain grown by Yangshao farmers) before they assumed their symbolic role in the after-life.

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
The buff-colored clay that this vessel is made of is found throughout a large area of northern China. The checkerboard-like pattern within a circle painted on the shoulder, and the crosshatch strokes on the neck are design features common to pottery vessels from Bashan and Machang, two excavated sites in northwest China that can be dated to the last phase of the Neolithic, around 2000 BC, just before the dawn of the Bronze Age. Two features of the jar indicate that it is likely from the Machang phase; the tall, elongated form with wide shoulders tapering to the narrow base and its lack of a burnished surface.

To see another vessel from this period in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 2002.134 in the keyword search box.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.