Shipwrecks filled with relics found in deep sea

Updated: May 22, 2023 By Wang Kaihao in Sanya, Hainan China Daily Print
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The manned submersible Shenhai Yongshi, or Deep Sea Warrior, is launched on Saturday for the first exploration mission involving two shipwrecks at a depth of about 1,500 meters in the South China Sea. [Photo/China Daily]

Two ancient shipwrecks, probably dating back to the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), have been found at a depth of 1,500 meters in the South China Sea, the National Cultural Heritage Administration announced on Sunday in the coastal city of Sanya, Hainan province.

A scientific research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering discovered the shipwrecks on a continental slope in October. It was the first time that China had found such an expansive ancient shipwreck site so deep under the sea.

The shipwrecks have been named by researchers as "Northwest Continental Slope No 1 and No 2 Shipwrecks in the South China Sea".

According to Yan Yalin, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration's archaeology department, preliminary investigation showed that relics from the No 1 shipwreck were scattered over an area of around 10,000 square meters.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 cultural relics — mainly porcelain items — are lying concealed on the spot, as most of the ship is still buried in sand, and some of its exposed parts are buried by up to 3 meters of relics.

On board the No 2 shipwreck, which is about 20 kilometers from the No 1 shipwreck, several processed logs of wood were found, along with a small number of ceramic items.

Based on the study of some porcelain relics that were salvaged from the site, the No 1 shipwreck probably dates back to the reign of Emperor Zhengde (1506-21) and the No 2 to the reign of Emperor Hongzhi (1488-1505).

"The well-preserved relics are of high historical, scientific and artistic value. It may be a world-class archaeological discovery in the deep sea," Yan said.

"The findings are key evidence of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, and a major breakthrough for historical study in Chinese overseas trade, navigation and porcelain (products)," he added.

Items from Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, and the Longquan Kiln in present-day Zhejiang province — both key porcelain production and export hubs in ancient China — dominated the relics discovered near the No 1 shipwreck.

According to a video clip made public by the research team on Sunday, a wide variety of items including blue-and-white porcelain, pieces of celadon pottery and green glazed ceramic wares were found on the site.

Archaeologists said that the logs found on the No 2 shipwreck indicate the nature of import trade at the time, as timber has been recorded as an imported item in ancient Chinese documents.

Tang Wei, director of the National Centre for Archaeology, said the new discoveries will provide key references for understanding the historical changes in trade routes across the South China Sea.

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