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Tripod Jar


Artwork Details

Tripod Jar
2200 BCE - 1600 BCE
earthenware with carbon trapping
9 3/8 in x 6 1/16 in x 6 1/16 in (23.81 cm x 15.4 cm x 15.4 cm);9 3/8 in x 6 1/16 in x 6 1/16 in (23.81 cm x 15.4 cm x 15.4 cm)
Gift of owners Seung Man Kim, Robert Piao, Daniel Shin and Hemin Quan


This tripod beaker, known as a li in Chinese, is typical of the Lower Xiajiadian Culture, which flourished what is today Inner Mongolia between about 2200 BCE and 1600 BCE. Our understanding of pre-historical China is constantly evolving, and it has only been in the past decade (since 1998) that a clear picture of Lower Xiajiadian Culture has come to light. Excavations show that the fertile valleys of the middle and lower Yin River allowed the agriculturally-based Lower Xiajiadian people to build large, walled cities with expansive public building projects.
The complex shape of this piece reveals that local potters were working with a fast wheel, and probably members of a specialized occupation. The size and shape of this li are characteristic of wares found in elevated niches in Lower Xiajiadian tombs: a cylindrical body flares out at the rim, and expands organically in its lower half to rest on three udder-shaped legs. It appears to have been dipped into black slip and burnished to produce a smooth, shiny surface. Perhaps it held wine for the afterlife.
A similar work in a North American Collection is published in Ellen Avril, Ancient Artistry: Pre-Chinese Ceramics and Jades from the Shatzman Collection (Ithaca, NY, 2006), no. 37.
Avril, Ellen. Ancient Artistry: Pre-Chinese Ceramics and Jades from the Shatzman Collection. [Exhibition catalogue] Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 2006, no. 37.
Linduff, Katheryn M., Rover D. Drennan, and Gideon Shelach, "Early Complex Societies in NE China: The Chifeng Internaitonal Collaborative Archaeological Research Project," Journal of Field Archaeology 29, no. 1/2 (Spring 2002–Summer 2004): 45–75.
The complex shape of this tripod beaker combined with the even and assured potting of the upper body suggest it was the work of professional potters using shaping tools and a fast potting wheel. The grey earthenware body is rough and was burnt black in open-pit firing, except at the legs, which fired to a light buff color buff because that part of the vessel was stuck in the earth and protected from the direct flames of the open kiln.The pot was burnished after firing, giving a smooth sheen to the surface. This elongated tubular vessel with partly hollow, udder-shaped legs is the most common pottery form found in tombs of a late Neolithic people that flourished in present-day eastern Inner Mongolia and the Liaoning peninsula known as the Xiajiadian culture.
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

Li 㽁 tripod black pottery cooking vessels are frequently discovered in the elite tombs of the Lower Xiajiadian Culture, which flourished between about 2200 BCE and 1600 BCE in what is today Inner Mongolia and Liaoning. This is the transitional period to the early Bronze Age in China. Frequent discovery of hill-top fortifications associated with these cemetery objects attests to intercommunity competition and violence in this society.

This form is one of the most characteristic of the culture, made by coiling and finishing on a fast wheel. While this tripod vessel appears to have been burnished then pit-fired to produce a smooth, shiny black surface from carbon-trapping, many others were painted with zoomorphic designs in red, black and white mineral pigments, suggesting their function as ceremonial objects. In a funerary context, it probably held heated wine for the afterlife or was once used in the feast at the funeral.

Physical Description:

A tall cylindrical vessel on mamiform tri-pod feet with an everted, flaring, and direct rim. It has a black burnished body with reddish-buff feet. 

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