Among the many kinds of Chinese ceramics that were exported is a variety of unrefined, stoneware storage jars. These ovoid jars are sometimes called "Martaban" wares after the transit port of Marta ban in Burma, a common stop in the trade route traveled by the ships carrying this pottery. These robust jars have bold, incised or relief decoration under different kinds of glazes, principally olive green, golden brown, brown, or almost black. Loop handles or pierced masks, through which a rope could be passed to secure a cover, are generally placed around the shoulder. "Martaban" jars can be quite large, sometimes reaching up to three feet in height.
This enigmatic group cannot be given a single place of origin. In general, it is agreed that these jars came from various kilns in southern China, and one source has been located at Qishicun, near Foshan, in Guangdong Province. It is most difficult to date them: some authorities believe that "Martaban" wares originated as early as the Tang dynasty; other experts think that they started to be made during the Song period. At least two of the fragments that were found at the Qishicun kilns carried the reign marks of Northern Song-dynasty emperors.
Martaban jars have been mentioned by travelers as early as the fourteenth century. Many of them can probably be dated to the Ming era-they were found in the load of the Witte Leeuw and they have continued to be manufactured until recent times. Natives of the Philippines have treasured these wares; and in Borneo, the Dyaks and other peoples have sometimes given jars names and even credited them with powers of speech and movement.
It should be noted that in the Near East the term "Martaban" is applied to large Yuan and Ming celadon jars and dishes rather than to the traditional large storage jars that usually goes under this name.