Look at the dirt – quick tips for authenticating neolithic and ancient Chinese pottery

Super quick post regarding a recent discussion I was having about cleaning antiquities, particularly those which would have been buried underground. While there are many highly specialized and scientific ways to authenticate a piece (for example TL testing), there are also some very practical clues one can look out for. For example dirt. When an item has been buried underground for millenia, the soil itself will likely take on certain characteristics, which are easily seen when compared to some of the more obvious fakes. There are differences in climates to account for but a general rule is that dirt does not equate to age. Fakers, particularly in the case of lower end fakes, will opt for lots of dirt under the assumption that the uninitiated buyer will equate dirt with age. This is particularly true with pottery, earthenware and ceramics, though holds true to a degree with furniture as well. So lets quickly compare the soil compacted on the surfaces of both an authentic piece and an obvious reproduction.

real verse fake chinese porcelain-earthenware-ceamic-terracotta

The fake on the left is about 2 years old. The jar on the right is about 2000 years old. Notice the extreme differences in the soil compacted on the surface of each jar? The fake has had mud compacted on its surface to simulate burial. Its dry, crumbly and peals away easily leaving little residue.  It feels more like its been sunk into a muddy field for a short period of time, rather then in a tomb for several thousand years. The one on the right is covered in a thick, very finely compacted build up of hard soil. Nor does it crack away easily. This is the product of gradual build up over a very long period of time. Its completely dried out, yet extremely dense and does not remove easily.

A large collection of Chinese, Burmese & Thai antiquities on offer from a private seller

An exceptionally fine and rare large reclining Burmese Mandalay period Buddha.An exceptionally fine and rare large reclining Burmese Mandalay period Buddha.

green-glazed warring states period storage jar 

An olive green-glazed warring states period (475 to 221 BC) “yue ware” storage jar (thermoluminescence (TL) tested)

On offer is two privately held collections of Chinese and Southeast Asian antiquities for sale. In total there are over 70 different pieces in both collections. Collection consists of Chinese Neolithic, Han, Warring States and Ming Dynasty pottery and terracotta, Burmese and Thai lacquerware, wooden and brass Buddhas and other religious artifacts, as well Chinese antique furniture.

A beautiful Chinese 3 tiered huanghuali "tihe" boxA beautiful Chinese 3 tiered huanghuali “tihe” box

Burmese gold gilt hin-tha lacquer betel nut vessels in the form of the sacred goose.Burmese gold gilt lacquer hin-tha betel nut vessels in the form of the sacred goose. 

All items were purchased in the mid 1990′ ies in either Hong Kong, Singapore and  Southeast Asia along with a few from London with many hand selected by a former antiquities dealer in Southeast Asian art who has since retired.

A large Chinese neolithic period (Banshan Phase) painted pottery storage jar (c. 2600–2300 B.C)

Majiayao Culture, Banshan type

Larger jars such as this one were typically used for storage and in burials.

A pair of finely cast bronze palanquin (sedan chair) finials or pole caps mounted on stands. Khmer, likely 12th / 13th century.

Chinese neolithic period painted pottery storage jarSimilar jars can be found in museums and private collections around the world.
Low-fired earthenware jars like this were made using a fine, wind-blown soil called loess. As these jars were made before the invention of the potter’s wheel, the body is formed using rolls of coiled clay, which were gradually built up and smoothed to create the walls of the jar. Un-glazed, these jars where typically painted with mineral based pigments such as iron oxide and manganese and burnished after firing.

Items have been well maintained and are in excellent condition other then normal wear and tears as would be expected from antiques and antiquities . Currently all items are physically located in Hong Kong and have been held privately there since time of purchase. Collections may be sold as a set or split according to buyer preference.

Antique Thai manuscript box originally used to store the religious texts.

Antique Thai manuscript box originally used to store the religious texts.

burmese lacquer Hsun Ok offering boxes in the shape of pagodaBurmese lacquer Hsun Ok offering boxes in the shape of pagodas.


Clear detailed images for each collection can be viewed here in three galleries:


1) Southeast Asian Antiques.


2) Chinese & Southeast Asian antiques


3) Chinese Antiques:

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