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Isotopic investigations of Chinese ceramics

Henderson, Julian; Ma, Hongjiao; Cui, Jianfeng; Ma, Renjie; Xiao, Hongyan

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Hongjiao Ma

Jianfeng Cui

Renjie Ma

Hongyan Xiao


This chapter provides insights into Chinese ceramic technologies of both bodies and glazes as well as provenance by using isotopes applied to a number of case studies. The use of Sr isotopes to investigate Chinese high fired Celadon wares and Blue and white Jingdezhen porcelain (Jiangxi province) has revealed a clear distinction associated with the fluxes used in the glazes: plant ash in celadons and limestone in Jingdezhen glazes, something that is not clear from major element analysis. Furthermore the technique is able to suggest by implication the nature of the silica source used in the glazes-normally weathered granitic rocks or metamorphic rocks (porcelain stone) which also contains Sr. This leads to an isotopic mixing line of the 2 Sr-rich components and is proof that 2 Sr-rich components were mixed in the manufacture of limestone glaze. This is not the case for plant ash glazes. Eventually the technique may be used in provenance studies. Like Sr isotope analysis, lead isotope analysis relies on there being a lack of or a minimal change in the isotope ratios when the raw materials are heated. Lead isotope analysis links the use of lead in glazes to the original metal ore and if a kiln uses a distinctive lead source in its glazes it can provide a provenance for the pottery. This has been very successful in distinguishing Chinese Tang sancai wares made in the Huangye, Huangbao, Liquanfang and Qionglai kilns.


Henderson, J., Ma, H., Cui, J., Ma, R., & Xiao, H. (2020). Isotopic investigations of Chinese ceramics. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 12,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 24, 2020
Online Publication Date Aug 3, 2020
Publication Date 2020
Deposit Date Jul 8, 2020
Publicly Available Date Aug 6, 2020
Journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Print ISSN 1866-9557
Electronic ISSN 1866-9565
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Article Number 201
Public URL
Publisher URL


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