Buried Treasure

On our first visit to the Russian Market Lee and I came across a ceramics stall. The bowls and pots were magical in their mystery, all made by hand, and oozing with wabi sabi. We promised that we would find the stall again once we had our own place, eager to capture even a little bit of the ancient magic for our own home.

It took two more trips to find the stall again, not bad for anyone who knows how easy it is to get lost in the same-same alleys that snake through the market.

The stall owner was lovely and welcoming and shared what she knew of the story of each piece. Glazed bowls handpainted by ancient Khmer, Thai, or Chinese. Tea cups cracked and worn from the sand and silt of their hiding place in the Tonle Sap and Mekong. Vases with reliefs of tigers and bears, a reminder of Cambodia's jungle predators.

Lee hunted for an incense bowl relishing in the beauty of the earthy colours and hand touched edges.

As well as bowls, cups, and vases, the vendor had a collection of tiny wheel thrown urns. Less than 10cm tall, these precious pots sat daintily along the edge of the shelf. Each one was unique, adorned with handles, thin tall necks, and wide bellies. All wearing the scars of time, cracks and holes and the patina of time, all adding to their character.

I picked a tiny urn from the set and was surprised to hear two shells rattling around inside. They were too big to have slid down the neck after the urn was made. I showed the stall owner and she explained that the urn was discovered in silt removed from the Tonle Sap. We all smiled like children as we pictured the story of a mollusk entering the urn and building it's new home. Having been buried for 200-600 years, perhaps this even happened twice, leaving the remains of two occupants in the tiny ceramic house.

Two little secrets hiding inside a tiny urn. Photo © Mel Nutter.

It was this unique story that pursuaded me to buy the urn. It now sits on our hall table and evey time I walk passed I take a peak at the shells hiding inside. Like little secrets, holding the mysteries of a time long ago. What considerate tenants they were to preserve the structure of their home, leaving just the shells as the artifacts of their time inside.

Whose were the hands that threw the urn into its initial creation? Were they Khmer, Thai, or Chinese, all of who had established trade routes along the rivers of Cambodia through the 9th to the 16th century. What event caused the urn to land in the river? And who was the treasure hunter who brought the urn to the surface with all of these unanswered questions?

Not all treasures are made of silver and gold. Some just plant a seed of thought that make your wonder about lives now passed, and where your own story will take you.

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