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The Origin of White Porcelain

Transformation of ceramic technology in sixth century north China

Shan Huang
Publication Year:
164 pages
Sub-series name:
UCL Institute of Archaeology PhD Series, 8
BAR number:


The sixth century saw a major transformation of ceramic technology. It initiated an era characterised by porcelain and polychrome decoration that overturned the earlier pattern of earthenware and stoneware production that had been used for thousands of years. However, the process of this dramatic transformation has been unclear. The Origin of White Porcelain focuses on the typo-chronology of three major categories of glazed ceramics recognised with in-situ pXRF analysis of items discovered from sixth-century burials in north China. It examines the chemical and mineralogical compositions of the body and glaze, the glazing methods and firing conditions of selected samples with optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM-EDS), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and thermal expansion measurement. These provide insights into the innovation of lead-glazed earthenware, the transfer of ash-glazed stoneware technology and the emergence of the earliest white porcelain. The social dynamics that drove the transformation and integration of ceramic technology and its impact on the succeeding period are discussed.

Shan Huang has studied Chinese ceramic technology and trade over the past twenty years at Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and University College London. She has developed a multi-disciplinary approach to archaeology, archaeometry and art history to research ancient ceramics.

‘This is an excellent, original and thorough study of the origins of white porcelain. It explores research questions about the pathway of technological transformation and the social impulse that drove the emergence and popularity of this new ceramic.' Professor Mike Parker Pearson, UCL Institute of Archaeology

‘Shan Huang’s ground-breaking and comprehensive synthesis of dated burial assemblages, supported by extensive scientific analyses of the ceramics themselves, allows for a new understanding of the origins of white porcelain, the most successful ceramic of the pre-industrial world.’ Professor Ian Freestone, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Introduction (S3113_Huang_9781407360492_-_introduction.pdf, 281 Kb) [Download]

Table of Contents (S3113_Huang_9781407360492_-_contents.pdf, 213 Kb) [Download]