Friday, August 19, 2005


A chance to buy relics from ancient shipwrecks


The Star
By Lim Chia Ying
August 16, 2005

Sjostrand holding a Celadon dish that was recovered
from the Royal Nanhai shipwreck. It dates back to
about AD 1460 and is said to be one of only 158 dishes
found in the ship's cargo that bear special features.

The “Treasures of the Nanhai” exhibition next month promises a lot of excitement for artefact collectors, who, for the first time in Malaysia, will get a chance to buy a piece of history.

The exhibition-cum-sale from Sept 4 to 11 will feature thousands of Ming blue and white, celadon, and underglaze black ware.

“Some 30 exclusive items from all nine shipwrecks will be auctioned off on Sept 3,” said Swedish naval architect Sten Sjostrand, whose company Nanhai Marine Archaeo-logy (NMA) discovered many Chinese, Thai, and Portuguese shipwrecks from the 11th to 19th centuries.

The antiques that will be on sale were salvaged from nine shipwreck sites off the east coast of Malaysia. They date back to the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

The Nanhai, which is the Chinese term for Southern Seas or the South China Sea, was in the past part of the Asian Maritime Silk Route that linked China with South-East Asia, India, and the Middle East.

With trading already carried out as early as the 9th century, ships travelling from China were laden with silk, porcelain, pottery, and various other exports.

Sjostrand has spent the last 15 years in Malaysia navigating the seas, studying and researching possible locations of shipwrecks.

In a media launch recently at the KLCC Convention Centre to announce the dates for the heritage night and dinner auction, a symposium, and the exhibition and sale, Sjostrand said among the artefacts which had been recovered were Chinese plates and ceramics, canons, and an abundant number of personal items.

He said 30% of the recovered items would be donated to the Department of Museums and Antiquities.

“Money from the sale of the relics will be used to fund further research and excavations,” he added.

Two of his divers were also present during the launch.

One of them was Kuantan-based diver Annette Thomasz, a Malaysian who has been diving for the past 18 years and turned professional 10 years ago. She was involved in two site excavations – the Desaru a few years back and the Wanli shipwreck last April.

Meanwhile, full-time Swedish diver Johan Milton, who has been with Sten for 10 years now, said it was an experience of a lifetime to be part of the diving team.

“We lead an exciting life as divers, very much like a sailor, although the process of excavation, I must say, is not easy.

“As divers, we need to know the depth of the site and stay focused once we are in. The nitrogen gas is one of the common things we are subjected to, and inhaling too much of it will get one intoxicated,” said Milton.

And when he’s not out at sea, the 34-year-old will be in the warehouse doing sketches of ships from which the artefacts were found, or registering names of the various treasures.

When asked why they chose to concentrate their artefact recovery from shipwrecks in Southern Seas, Milton said its waters were nice and clear, a suitable environment for excavation.

“We don’t dive in the Malacca Straits because its waters are murky,” he said.


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