Just 10 kilometers on the outskirts of Twante, and over 40 kilometers from downtown Yangon, this is one of the most archeologically interesting places in Southeast Asia.The laneways are overgrown with thickets of grass during the rainy season, and the roads and roofs gather dust in the dry season. Every so often this rustic location attracts international researchers, who come armed with their sieves, brushes and notebooks to document the pottery and ceramic artefacts that have made the area famous among archeologists around the world.
Though the main kiln looks like a massive hole in the ground surrounded by old bricks, its surroundings have concealed ceramic artefacts that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.Nearby other historic terracotta kilns await excavation. They are located in Zawti, Ayoetaung, and Hngetpyawsan villages in Twantay; and Thabyusan and Hngetawsan villages in Kawhmu and Kungyangon townships.
Archeologists from Twante, along with the Myanmar Ceramic Society, first teamed up with a group of Japanese researchers back in 2010. They conducted field trips, and identified more than 2,000 more potential sites of interest.
Looking at the laidback nature of life in present-day Twante, it’s hard to believe these muddy sites attract such international interest. Though tourists are happy to take a boat rides across the river and step foot on the golden island of Thanlyin Pagoda, very few have even heard about these historical sites.
The Phayagyi kiln is owned by Daw Aye Aye Htwe and, working with the Archeology Department of the university, her family have become the de-facto guardians of the kiln. But with the coming and going of the old military regime since the excavation, the site faces an uncertain future.
When her family bought the land back in the 1990’s they had no idea the land was of any archeological significance. They were more interested in the land’s agricultural potential, given that Daw Aye Aye Htwe’s K50,000 could help her cultivate dozens of varieties of fruit and vegetables.
In 2000, however, a Japanese visitor came to town and handed her a map. Not knowing exactly what they were looking at, they sensed the man’s excitement as he pointed to a spot where their house was.
“We were excited when he told us our farm contained ancient treasures. We’d hoped to make money from the discovery,” Ma Naing Naing, Daw Aye Aye Htwe’s eldest daughter, said.
Mr Suratakinori, who goes by the Burmese name of U Thu Ta, asked the family if he could excavate artefacts on the site. He planned to spend three years unearthing the site’s plates, pots and urns.
The villagers were also recruited by the Japanese research team, employed for an initial one-month excavation. The men carried soil away from the site, whist the women were tasked with cleaning the pots as they were unearthed.
Deputy director of the government’s Department of Archeology U Kyaw Myo Win remembers those days fondly. He was a junior researcher at the time, and recalls U Thu Ta’s announcement that they had uncovered the largest kiln site in all of Southeast Asia.