Tran Tan Vịnh

Beautiful ancient pottery gives us insight into a culture that flourished in Vietnam 3,000 years ago


Vase with a wide and flared base

Three prehistoric civilizations flourished within the territory of Vietnam: the Dong Son culture (7th – 1st century AD); the Sa Huynh culture (10th century AD – end of the 2nd century); and the Oc Eo culture (1st century – 7th century). These three civilizations formed a cultural triangle in the early days of the nation’s history. Quang Ngai is the birthplace of the Sa Huynh culture, the existence of which was discovered by French archeologist M. Vinet in 1909, or 110 years ago. After that, many Sa Huynh relics were discovered in the river basins, coastal plains, islands, midlands and mountains of Central Vietnam.

Vase with a wide and flared base

Pottery played an important role both in the daily lives and spiritual practices of Sa Huynh people. Archeologists have found many objects including large funerary jars, called “Sa Huynh burial jars”, and various pottery vases used in daily life. At the Long Thanh archeological site in Pho Thanh commune, Duc Pho district, Quang Ngai province, archeologists discovered 18 pottery flower vases. These vases bear highly artistic decorations and graphics. These artifacts are typical of the Sa Huynh culture, dating back to the early bronze age around 3,000 years ago. Vietnam’s Prime Minister recognized the Long Thanh flower vase collection as a “National Treasure” in 2018. It is now preserved and displayed in the Quang Ngai Museum.

These pottery jars date back thousands of years but remain relatively intact. Sa Huynh potters used manual shaping techniques. The clay was filtered and mixed with fine sand to create perfect vases with thin but firm bodies, red coloring, elegant shapes, diverse decorative motifs and a unique style. The flower vases from the Long Thanh archeological site are sophisticated and uniquely decorated artifacts of high aesthetic value.

Vase with a long neck, short legs, and slightly flared mouth, decorated with triangular patterns

Researchers have classified the 18 Long Thanh vases into five different types. The first type of vases have a long neck, short legs, short body, slightly flared mouth, and a high, slightly flared base with an edge around the body. Decorations include serrated patterns, carved lines, triangles and S-patterns. The second type of vases have a long, thin neck and flared mouth and a round lower body with an edge running around it. The decorative motifs are mainly horizontal triangular bands and wavy lines painted on serrated motifs. The third type consists of vases with a flared mouth, expanding shoulder and neck, and short lower body with an edge running around. The upper part of the vase is decorated with geometric shapes and waves. This shows that the vases’ owners lived on the water and fished for a living. The fourth type includes short flower vases with a widely flared mouth, wide neck with a waist, round body, and a narrow and flared base. Geometric and wavy patterns decorate the mouth, neck, body and bottom. The last type of vases have no base. The body expands toward the bottom. These have a flared mouth, narrow neck and an edge running around the neck. They are decorated with triangular motifs and short waves painted on serrated patterns.

These vases are typically ochre red in color. Decorative patterns include patches of red and graphite black, highlighting the beauty of these ancient vases.

The collection of 18 Long Thanh flower vases reflects the sophisticated skills and high aesthetic values of pottery-makers during the Sa Huynh culture, a famous early civilization in Central Vietnam.