Saturday, September 10, 2005


Sunken treasures shed light on 10th century Asian trade


Golf News
September 08, 2005

Jakarta: Wooden ships laden with ceramic pots, golden necklaces and valuable spices have for centuries navigated Indonesian waters, a key trade route linking Asia with Europe and the Middle East. And for just as many years, they have been sinking.

No one knows that better than Adi Agung, who later this month will wrap up salvage operations on a Chinese ship that went down in the crystal blue Java Sea more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, 422,000 artefacts have been recovered from the wreckage 54 metres below the surface in what could be the largest cargo of ceramics ever found.

Christie's, which is expected to auction the items in 2006 and 2007, says it's worth millions of dollars.

Most of the goods are fine white or green wares from northern and southern China dating to the early 10th century. But the vessel also contains Egyptian artefacts and Lebanese glassware, and experts say the rarity and variety of the items could shed new light on inter-Asian trade.

Agung, who started the PT Paradigma Putra Sejahtera salvage company four years ago, explored 30 already looted wrecks before receiving word that fisherman had found pieces of ceramics while trawling for snails about 220 km northwest of Jakarta.

"It was unbelievable, amazing," said the 37-year-old Agung, among the first divers to take a look at the wreckage in mid-2003. "There was no coral at all, just a mound of ceramics" 100 metres long, 45 metres wide and 30 metres high.

Thirty per cent of the pieces were in pristine condition, many of them green ceramic dishes from China's Five Dynasties period (907-960 A.D.)

Among the most prized possessions are a white vase with a long slender neck and sloping shoulders believed to be from the Liao dynasty (907-1125 AD) and a flask made of a brilliant emerald green translucent glass tentatively attributed to 10th century Egypt. There are also thousands of rubies, bronze coins, silver mirrors, ceremonial tools and shipping equipment.

"Discoveries like this show how important the sea floor is," said Thijs Maarleveld, a founding member of the International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage and a lecturer on maritime archaeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands.


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