This pottery tripod ritual food vessel, based on an ancient archaic shape, is known as a ding (鼎). These type of cauldrons, come in a variety vary of shapes and sizes, but they all stand on three legs. This one has an ovoid body and a slightly flattened lid. It stands on three plain sturdy legs, which flare our slightly at the top and bottom; the broad looped handles are attached to the body. Its shallow lid has a flattened top, with three small horned buffalo resting on the top. Both the edge of the handle, as well as the buffalo, are incised with archaistic motifs often seen on earlier bronzes. The lighter grey pottery, has traces of a darker painted or perhaps lacquered decoration.
This vessel is clearly intended to look like a bronze example, in terms of shape as well as decoration. Bronze was a much more costly and less widely available material, so pottery was often used to create the same effect, whilst still complying with the strict burial ritual traditions. It is now known that the higher the rank of the noble, the larger amount of artefacts - including ding vessels - that would accompany them to the afterlife. Whole groups of ding have been found together, often with variations in size and material, some even filled with traces of organic material.
These type of tripod vessels, were used as ritualistic cooking cauldrons for heating wine or food. It stands higher on its legs, so a heat source could be placed underneath it. It would have been used as part of religious rituals in life, therefore also a necessary item for in the presumed after-life.
In the well documented Western Han Dynasty tomb of King Zhoa Mo (r.137-122 BC), a large number of bronze, as well as pottery, ding were found. They were also found in the Han Dynasty Yangling Mausoleum complex, Shanxii Province. Pottery ding are also in the museum collections of the British Museum, London (acc nr. 1937,0712.8) and the Freer & Sackler Gallery, Washington ( nr C.687&A-1909). To compare, an earlier Warring States period bronze ding, with similar reclining animals on the lid and broad loop handles, is in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (B60B5+.a-.b).