‘Made in China’ Mark Names the Source of Java Shipwreck Cargo

‘Made in China’ Mark Names the Source of Java Shipwreck Cargo

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Experts at the Field Museum in Chicago have made a discovery regarding a Chinese treasure trove that lay strewn on the ocean floor in the Java Sea. Now, what amounts to a ‘Made in China’ label has been read, helping researchers to determine the date of the sunken treasure. Has the new dating changed the way that we see the history of trade in Asia?

Sunken Treasure

According to the Journal of Archaeological Science, the treasure was retrieved by divers in the 1990s and is from an unknown ship that sank in the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia. While the identity of the ship remains unidentified, it has now been definitively established that its cargo was Chinese in origin.

The Daily Mail reports the ‘wooden hull had disintegrated over time, leaving only a treasure trove of cargo’. The bulk of the cargo was Chinese ceramics but also included also some ivory and resin. It is speculated that the cargo was intended to be traded with local Javanese kingdoms.

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Chinese ceramic bowls in situ at the Java Sea Shipwreck site. ( The Field Museum )

The trove had lain undisturbed until local fishermen accidently discovered it in the 1980s. An American salvage company Pacific Sea Resources recovered the treasure in the 1990s. Their divers helped to bring the thousands of pieces of ceramics and other luxury goods to the surface. Without their expertise the trove would still be at the bottom of the sea. The company later donated much of the cargo from the find to the Field Museum.

New Dating of the Java Shipwreck

The thousands of ceramics and other artifacts have been examined by experts at the Chicago institute since the late 1990s. It had originally been thought that the cargo of the sunken mystery ship came from the late 13 th century and was approximately 700 years old. It had been assumed that the find was composed of goods that came from the period just after the final conquest of China by the Mongols around 1279, when the Song Dynasty was conclusively replaced by the Yuan Dynasty.

However, a team of archaeologists and other experts have established that this is not the case and that the find is a hundred years older than previously thought. They identified ceramics that were marked with an inscription, that has been likened to a ‘made in China’ label. This indicated that they were manufactured in the Jianning Fu, district in China. The name of the area had changed to Jianning Lu after the Mongol conquest. This means that the shipwreck’s cargo most likely comes from between 1162 and 1278 the period of the Song Dynasty.

A marked piece of pottery recovered from the shipwreck site. Image: Gedi Jakovickas / The Field Museum

Lisa Niziolek, an archaeologist, from the Field Museum states that the probability was that any trading ship would not carry pottery made many years earlier. This was because merchants could not afford to store them, and they wanted a quick sale. According to Niziolek as reported by, ‘they were probably made not long before the ship sank".

It was not this that first brought up the question of the date of the wreck. In the 1990s, almost half the cargo of the wreck had been transported to the Field Museum and Niziolek began her investigations. After consulting with ceramics experts in China, she was informed the ceramic pieces had more similarity to work of the 11 th and 12 th century than the 13 th. This motivated the Chicago team to put the find to the test of carbon dating. A previous carbon dating had established that the cargo was about 700 years old. However, the ivory and resin were re-tested using the latest techniques and analysis and this indicated that the find could be much older than originally thought – in the wide range of 889-1261 AD reported CNN.

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Ivory tusks found at the wreck were radio carbon dated. ( The Field Museum )

That’s quite a wide range of age, due to the poor quality of the sea-soaked samples that were available. But it still puts the latest date for the samples at earlier than previously thought, closer to the mid-13 th century.

If nothing else is proven here, the case does illustrate the difficulties archaeologists face in dating and the importance of obtaining multiple sources of evidence before reaching conclusions.

Niziolek commented: "What surprised us the most were the early dates obtained through the radiocarbon dating of the resin and the elephant tusk samples. These were sometimes much older than the earliest date the ship could have sailed based on the Jianning Fu inscription (1162 AD). This study explicitly illustrates how important it is to look at multiple lines of evidence when trying to answer archaeological questions," reports CNN.

Inscribed box bases from the wreck. ( The Field Museum )

From Silk Road to Sea Routes

If the earlier dating is conclusive, it could influence the way that we view the development of Chinese maritime trade, which is a crucial part in the history of globalization. The new date for the cargo indicates that Chinese merchandise was being traded earlier than thought. The trove probably comes from a transition period when Chinese merchants were increasingly beginning to trade by sea rather than use the old Silk Road route. The new dating means that the shipwreck’s cargo offers an insight into the history of trade networks in South-East Asia and the development of the regional economy in the era.

'X-ray gun' helps researchers pinpoint the origins of pottery found on ancient shipwreck

About 800 years ago, a ship sank in the Java Sea off the coast of the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. There are no written records saying where the ship was going or where it came from -- the only clues are the mostly-disintegrated structure of the vessel and its cargo, which was discovered on the seabed in the 1980s. Since the wreck's recovery in the 1990s, researchers have been piecing together the world that the Java Sea Shipwreck was part of. In a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science, archaeologists have demonstrated a new way to tell where the ceramic cargo of the ship originally came from: by zapping it with an X-ray gun.

"It's amazing that we can pinpoint the production area of materials from an 800-year-old shipwreck," says Wenpeng Xu, the study's lead author, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which has a joint graduate program in Anthropology with the Field Museum. "It helps us learn the details of trade relationships -- knowing how people interacted in the past is very important for us to understand the present."

The Field Museum is home to an estimated 7,500 pieces of cargo recovered from the wreck, including the 60 ceramic pieces from the shipwreck analyzed in this study: bowls and boxes made of porcelain covered in a bluish-white glaze called qingbai. Based on the style of the ceramics, scientists knew that it came from southeastern China, but style alone isn't enough to pinpoint a piece's origin because many kilns produced similar-looking pieces. By comparing the chemical makeups of ceramics from the wreck and from different kiln sites in China, the researchers were able to more precisely determine where the ceramics were made.

Ceramics from different sites have different chemical compositions because of variations in the elements present in that region's clay or in the recipes that potters used to mix their clay. If a piece of pottery from the shipwreck matches the pottery found at an archaeological site, it's a pretty safe bet that the pottery originated there. "Each kiln site uses its own materials and ingredients for clay -- that's what makes each sample's fingerprint unique," explains Xu. "If the fingerprint of the sample matches the fingerprint of the kiln site, then it's highly possible that that's where the sample came from." This is where the X-ray gun comes in.

"We used a portable X-ray fluorescence detector -- it looks a lot like a ray gun," says Lisa Niziolek, Field Museum Boone Research Scientist and co-author of the study. The science behind the compositional analysis is complex, but Niziolek breaks it down: "You're shooting X-rays into a material you're interested in. It excites the material's atoms. Energy goes flying out, and this measures that energy. Different elements have different signatures of energy that comes back out."

Knowing the precise origins of cargo on the ship reveals the size and complexity of trade networks at the time. The ceramics in the study were created over 2,000 miles from where the ship sank -- about the distance between New York and Las Vegas.

"A key that's emerging is that the shipwreck tells us that there were huge trade networks in the 12th and 13th centuries," says Field Museum MacArthur Curator of Anthropology and study co-author Gary Feinman. "We're taught to associate vast trade networks with Europeans like Magellan and Marco Polo, but Europeans weren't a big part of this network that went from Asia to Africa. Globalization isn't just a recent phenomenon -- it's not just Eurocentric, not just tied to modern capitalism. The ancient world was more interconnected than a lot of people thought."

"People often refer to shipwrecks as time capsules, but the Java Sea Wreck is more than just that," says Niziolek. "A time capsule represents a moment frozen in time, but that ignores the way these results reveal these vast and changing socioeconomic networks."

Feinman agrees: "It's almost the opposite of a nice, bounded time capsule, it's more like a window that opens up to a wide horizon and tells us how this material came onto this ship before it sank."

Suffolk shipwreck find could be 'really rare'

A wooden boat section was found at Thorpeness beach but cannot be investigated yet due to Covid-19.

Coastal archaeologists are not allowed to visit it, or a second shipwreck at Covehithe under current restrictions.

They had a "tantalising glimpse" of what might be there by studying the public's photographs, according to discovery officer Andy Sherman.

"It's very exciting to see - hopefully they will still be there in three or four months so that we can do further investigations," he said.

Mr Sherman, from the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN), said it was "very difficult to successfully identify specific wrecks".

But under current restrictions, the task was even harder, as CITiZAN has had to rely on its volunteers.

He said photographs of the latest finds showed two "carvel-constructed timber boats", a common construction method in the 16th to 19th Centuries.

The wreck at Thorpeness appeared to be held together with wooden "treenails", or pins, a technique that dates from the 13th Century to the 19th Century, Mr Sherman said.

But an unusual construction technique could pinpoint it to a 150-year period from the late 16th Century through to the 17th Century.

"It's difficult to tell from the photographs but this section of wreck appears to have double hull planking, which could be really exciting," he said.

"This makes the vessel slightly more buoyant on one side and is really, really rare [to find].

"Although the technique is known from historical writings there is only one well-known example in the UK archaeological record."

The find has attracted a lot of wider interest, with nearly 300 people attending an online talk about it, organised by Nicholas Mellor from 4D Heritage.

Archaeologist Mark Horton, professor of cultural heritage at the Royal Agricultural University, was one of the experts who took part after examining the photographs.

He believes the piece is more likely to be from an 18th Century cargo vessel called a collier, whose best-known example is Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour.

No colliers have survived so if this was the case "it's more than just old timbers on the beach, it could be a fascinating piece of Suffolk maritime history", the professor said.

Mike Tupper, managing director of the International Boatbuilding Training College at Lowestoft in Suffolk, has been to Thorpeness to see the wreckage and said "the sheer size of it blew my mind".

He thinks the oak timbers formed the topside of a ship that was 100-150ft (30m-45m) long.

"If we can identify the species of oak, we'll have a good idea of where it was made because back-in-the day, trees of this size - at least 150 years-old - would not have been moved far as they were so heavy."

The Covehithe wreck, near Southwold, has not attracted the same level of interest although it appears to have "sheathing" on it - thin metal plates attached to the outside of the hull to reduce the amount of seaweed and barnacles.

The metal used would help date it but "unfortunately we can't tie that down any further [without visiting the site]," Mr Sherman said.

Seeing the photos was "a bit like Christmas Day", he said, "you know, when you're squeezing a present to find out what it is and get an idea of what you might see later".

"We have a tantalising glimpse of information but we can't do anymore at the moment," he added.

"Then if they get covered up again, thankfully we'll still have some record of them."

Porcelain raised from the sea: underwater excavations of shipwrecks are making major additions to our knowledge of the early international trade in Chinese ceramics as well as bringing to the surface objects of great beauty and interest in their own right.

Porcelain, first manufactured in China shortly before AD 600, travelled around the globe and exerted a major influence on international trade, habits and tastes. China was the main source of porcelain for more than 1,400 years and for a long time retained a monopoly on production. Ceramics became a valuable export for China, together with tea, silk, gold, lacquer and other luxury commodities. (1) By the 9th century ceramics were being shipped to Korea, Japan, south-east Asia, the Middle East and as far as the Arab kingdoms in eastern Africa. Trade with Europe started in the 16th century, and porcelain was also taken to both South and North America.

Because of their weight and bulk, ceramics were transported mainly by water. Ocean-going ships carried cargoes east, south and west, along what has been termed the 'maritime silk route'. Although the Chinese built huge, seaworthy junks, they preferred to sail short-haul, inter-Asian routes, and to transship cargoes for transportation onwards. Trade was carried by Indian, Persian and Arab traders from the 5th century, and they were later joined by Jewish merchants. Before about AD 1000 the journey to China was undertaken by mariners in one passage from their home ports, while after that date the voyage was broken down into two or three stages and products traded through entrepots along the maritime route. (2) Stating in the early 16th century, European mariners sailed their great ships into Asian ports, both vessels belonging to state-run East India companies and those financed by private business.

In recent years information on the maritime trade in ceramics has been greatly augmented by the excavation of shipwrecks, using techniques and equipment that have rendered the seabed ever-more accessible. In this article, sites in three segments of the maritime silk route are considered. First, excavations off the coast of China itself, an activity chiefly sponsored and controlled by the state: second, shipwreck recovery in the international waters of south-east Asia, often undertaken as a commercial business by private salvage companies and third, marine archaeology off the tip of Africa, co-ordinated by the university sector.

More than 2,000 sunken vessels have been surveyed off the coast of China, and over the past 20 years marine archaeology has increased in pace to match China's growing commercial and technological power. It was only in March 1987 that the State Bureau of Cultural Relics and several academic institutions formed a State Underwater Archaeology Co-ordinating Group. In November 1987 a new Underwater Archaeology Institute was established at the National Museum of History in Beijing, to train and manage marine archaeologists, and in 1989 state regulations were passed to provide a legal basis for the protection of underwater relics. (3) However, it has taken more than 20 years for China to bring its regulations in line with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001.

Since 1987, marine archaeology has gradually increased, especially in the south and east, at the start of the great trade routes. Four wrecks have been surveyed in the harbour mouth at the city, of Fuzhou in Fujian province, on China's southeastern shore. Fuzhou was a port of major importance from the 9th century onwards, because of its coastal position and its riverine links with Jingdezhen inland. Jingdezhen was the chief centre of porcelain production from the 10th century, wares being carried from its landlocked site down rivers and across lakes to the coast. In many cases, as with the routes south to Fuzhou and Canton (Guangzhou), mountain ranges had to be crossed between one river and another. This exhausting and labour-intensive process was carried out by men bearing loaded baskets on shoulder-poles.

Fuzhou was fortunate in having a large harbour, protected from the sea by sandbanks and shoals of islands. However, these also caused havoc to ships, among them a vessel that sank in the late Yuan dynasty (c. 1330-1365) loaded with large celadon dishes from the Longquan kilns. Longquan was another extensive inland kiln area, which specialised in the manufacture of celadons, and exported large quantities in the 14th and 15th centuries. Some dishes with dragon designs on board the Fuzhou harbour ship are similar to pieces in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (Fig. 2), indicating that the ship's cargo was probably en route to the Middle East.

A second wreck just outside Fuzhou dates from the mid-Ming period (15th-16th century), a third from the late Ming (16th-17th century), (4) but perhaps the most significant is the so-called Bowl Reef No. 1 shipwreck, which contained more than 17,000 items of blue-and-white and enamelled porcelain of superlative quality, dating from the late 1690s (Figs 3 and 4).

The forms and decoration of many of the wares revealed that they were bound for Europe, and more specifically for the Netherlands, then nearing the end of its 17th-century 'Golden Age' (Fig. 3). However, some items were decorated in styles more readily associated with the domestic market for example, a dish decorated in underglaze cobalt blue and copper red is very similar in style to dishes bearing Chinese studio marks and dates equivalent to 1671, 1672 and 1673 (Fig. 4). It is not uncommon to find ships' cargoes that incorporate artefacts for several markets, and from older stock. Loaded together to fill the hold, they could be sold on in batches at the next port. The position of the Bowl Reef No. 1 ship indicated that she had already turned south out of port, heading down the coast towards Canton. It seems quite likely that she would trans-ship part of her cargo there on to a Dutch East Indiaman, for carriage to Europe.

Long before Europeans were trading in porcelain, Chinese kilns were supplying lands in Asia and the Middle East. Such cargoes are exemplified in finds from the so-called Nanhai ship, which sank off Yangjiang in Guangdong province on the south coast of China. The ship was dramatically raised from the seabed in December, 2007, an event broadcast worldwide. (5) The event had long been anticipated, for a museum to house the contents had been begun in December 2004. (6) The Chinese-built junk lay in about 25 metres of water and was covered in mud that provided perfect conditions for preservation. Both the ship and its contents were in exceptionally good condition. The salvage team began building a massive steel cage around the 30-metres-long vessel in May 2007 in order to raise it and the surrounding silt.

About 6,000 artefacts have already been retrieved from the vessel, mostly porcelain, as well as personal items from crew members, including gold belt buckles and silver rings. A further 50,000 artefacts are believed to be still on board, many still in their original packing cases. Among the finds were a large number of coins dating from the late Northern Song dynasty, leading excavators to the tentative conclusion that the wreck dated from the very early Southern Song dynasty, c. 1130-50. The porcelain is of qingbai type, white porcelain with bluish-tinted glaze, either made at Jingdezhen or at kilns further south in Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Similar types have been excavated at sites across the world, and a near contemporary Chinese book, Records of Foreign Nations (Zhu Fan Zhi, 1225), lists porcelain exports to Vietnam, Cambodia, Sumatra, Malaysia, Java, Borneo, Sri Lanka, the Malabar coast of India and Zanzibar. Its author, Zhao Rugua, was superintendent of maritime customs for Fujian province. (7)

Chinese divers have also explored a variety of sites around the Xisha or Paracel Islands, a low-lying group of reefs and islets in the middle of the South China Sea, between Vietnam, south China and the Philippines. (8) An underwater archaeology team dived for 39 days in early 1999, and found 13 sites dating from the Five dynasties (907-960) to the 19th century, and one modern vessel. All had been trying to shelter from typhoons, and had been driven on to reefs.

Significant ceramic cargoes included Huaguang Reef No. 1 shipwreck, from which were recovered 849 artefacts dating from the late Song-Yuan dynasty, late 13th century (Fig. 6). The majority of porcelains were of qingbai type, and of relatively rough quality. They seem not to have been made at Jingdezhen, but at provincial kilns in the south Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. In other words, the cargo of this Chinese junk derived from kilns close to the coastal port from which the ship departed. The location of the wreck and the homogeneous nature of its load suggest that it had not yet called at other ports to trade goods on.

A much later ship foundered on North Reef, from which shipwreck No. 3 yielded 153 finds. They included quantities of blue-and-white porcelain painted in a style that has come to be known as Kraak. This was a style in which segmented panels predominated, a feature possibly derived from European silver. However, most patterns were Chinese in derivation. For example, a fragment of the base of one dish (Fig. 5) shows spotted deer in a landscape containing pine trees, bamboo and, in the centre, a growing fungus. The deer is a punning allusion to emolument, the pine trees and bamboo signify long life and endurance, while the fungus of immortality conveys eternal life. Of course, such references from Chinese popular culture would have been lost on the European audience for which the dish was bound. It seems that this was another Chinese ship on the first leg of the journey to Europe, before it had trans-shipped its cargo. (9)

A significant find, both in terms of date and content, is a shipwreck that has been termed the Belitung wreck. This Arab dhow sank in about the year 826 in the West Java Sea near Belitung Island, situated off the larger island of Bangka, at the western end of Java. The date assigned to the wreck derives from the date inscribed on a bowl discovered on board. (10) The cargo numbered almost 60,000 objects and included gold and silver utensils, silver and lead ingots, lacquer, bronze mirrors, coinage and more than 57,000 ceramics. The bulk of the ceramic cargo was everyday ware from inland kilns in Hunan province (Changsha wares). It had been transported hundreds of miles down the Yangtze and then round the coast to Canton, the ship's probable port of departure. The major type was bowls, and these were stacked and packed inside large stoneware storage jars. An important minor category of ceramics was high-fired whitewares from kilns in north China, comprising more than 200 large vessels decorated with splashes of iron yellow and copper green (Fig. 7), and three dishes decorated with underglaze cobalt blue (Fig. 8). These were the first securely-provenanced, whole objects of 'Tang dynasty blue and white' and they caused great excitement in the ceramic world, both for reasons of technology, and as evidence of Middle Eastern influence and trade. The patterns on the dishes, and the use of underglaze cobalt painting, are quite unlike anything made for China in the period, and have been linked to contemporary ceramics from Iraq. There is strong evidence that the ship and its high-value cargo were destined for the Persian Gulf.

A second early wreck recovered from the West Java sea off Bangka in 1997 was a ship termed the Intan. It contained a smaller cargo, of 13,400 non-perishable artefacts, but was noteworthy in that the cargo was from several sources and included glass vessels and glazed ceramics from the Middle East, together with Chinese ceramics of ordinary quality comprising whitewares, qingbai, brown stonewares and celadons (Fig. 9). (11) A group of coins on board, probably newly in circulation, were used during the reign of the Emperor Gaozu, who died in 942. The cargo had been sourced from both local and long-distance trade, so the ship had already collected goods from at least one entrepot.

Another dangerous sector of the maritime silk route was that navigated through the reefs and sand shoals in the ocean surrounding the Philippines. Several wrecks have been raised in recent years, and their cargoes displayed in the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila. One Chinese vessel ran aground near the Lena shoal, north-east of Palawan (the westernmost island of the Philippines) in about AD 1500. (12) It contained a mixed cargo of goods indicating that after it left China it had called at ports in Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra. The Chinese porcelains recovered included shapes and patterns in Islamic taste, giving a choice of possible destinations. The ship could ultimately have been bound for a port such as Malacca, where goods would have been trans-shipped for carriage to the Red Sea or Persian Gulf. Another theory is that the cargo was destined for the Muslim sultanates of the Philippine islands, Borneo or the Moluccas. (13)

Ships sailing from China to the Dutch centre of Batavia (present-day Jakarta) on Java took the 'western ocean route' down the coast of Vietnam, a journey that should have taken about a month. One vessel that did not make it was an Asian hybrid vessel that sank south-east of what is now Ho Chi Minh city, near the island of Con Dao. The wreck is named after the coastal town Vung Tau. The vessel was of a type known as a lorcha, a Chinese junk heavily influenced by Portuguese ship design, and the vessel had not been dashed against a reef but had suffered a catastrophic fire and burnt right down to the waterline. (14)

Although the wreck was discovered some years ago, in 1989, its contents are worth noting because of their congruence with ships discussed here. On board were more than 48,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain, including many made for the Dutch market (Fig. 10). One special feature was that many blue-and-white garnitures were miniature in scale, for use in dolls' houses owned by wealthy Dutch ladies. (15) A second group of ceramics were rougher, made in provincial kilns in south China, and destined for customers in south-east Asia. Thus it seems that this vessel was on the first leg of its journey from south China, with a cargo that was designed to be split and sold on at the next port, probably Batavia.

Excavation at land sites on the Cape and of ships wrecked off the treacherous southern coast of Africa have revealed that a very large percentage of ceramics (up to 80%) was oriental. This may be explained by the central position of the Cape on the European route to Asia, and its occupation by the Dutch East India company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or voc). (16) The analysis and recording of shipwreck ceramics by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town began in 1992. It was linked to a project run by the Historical Archaeology Research Group (HARG) to build a chronology for all ceramics excavated from sites in South Africa. More than 30 shipwreck sites have been charted, and excavation linked to archival research. One important ship is the Dutch East India Company vessel Oosterland, which was completing its fourth round voyage to Asia when it ran aground in a storm in Table Bay in May 1697 (Fig. 11). Evidence from voc archives, the position of ceramics on the seabed and an analysis of wares suggests that the ceramics on board represented a rare example of unrecorded private trade. (17) The ship's contents are of a similar date to the Wanjiao No. 1 shipwreck in Fuzhou and the Vung Tau wreck, so it is interesting to compare the contents of the three vessels. One was a Chinese junk on its way out of harbour with a load of single origin the second a hybrid vessel that had possibly called at several ports on the China coast for loading before setting sail while the third was a Dutch galleon with a composite cargo, on the third or fourth leg of the long journey home to Europe.

The shipwrecks discussed here represent just a fraction of finds that come to light each year. Information is updated quickly on several internet sites, but scholarly evidence and discussion is somewhat slower to reach the press. Each new site can provide information for the overall picture of international trade. China's increasing involvement illuminates the source of products and their travel to the point of embarkation. State-sponsored archaeology is more likely fully to excavate ships and their context, not just their precious contents, and thereby augment the history of marine engineering and shipbuilding.

The range of products across 1,400 years of history the number of countries, including China, involved in both the production of ceramics and provision of trade vessels the range and diversity of ships and routes--all are gradually becoming both clearer and more complex with each new find. However, variable sponsorship of excavation (some state-controlled and some private) and difficulties in recovery from the deep ocean lead to an uneven record. What can be achieved is illustrated by the activities of the University of Cape Town, where painstaking archival and archaeological work is gradually piecing together the history of the maritime silk route in one hazardous corner of the world.

(1) See K.N. Chaudhuri, Trade and civilization in the Indian Ocean. An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750, Cambridge and New York, 1985, map on pp. 186-87, where exports from China after AD 1000 are calculated as: gold (5%), silk, raw silk, lacquer and porcelain (30%), tea, sugar, rhubarb, copper cash and spelter (65%).

(3) Li Zheng, 'The Sunken Treasures along China's Coastline' in Zhongwai wenhua jiaolau [China & The World Cultural Exchange], No. 43,1999/5, Beijing, 1999, pp. 10-12.

(4) Official publication of the first three shipwrecks has not yet occurred, so illustration of finds is not yet possible.

(5) Online report from BBC News, 21 December 2007. Online report, Xinhua news agency 28 December, 2007.

(6) China Heritage Newsletter, No. 1, March 2005 (China Heritage Project, The Australian National University).

(7) Zhao Rugua, Records of Foreign Nations (Zhu Pan Zhi), new edition with revisions by Feng Chenjun, Beijing, 1936, pp. 3-39.

(8) Territorial rights to the islands have been claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

(9) Xisha shuixia kaogu (1998-1999) [Underwater archaeology from the Xisha Islands 1998-1999], Beijing, 2006.

(10) The wreck was recovered in 1998 99 by the German explorer Tilman Walterfang, whose company Seabed Explorations offered its cargo in a single lot at a purported US$40m. After unsuccessful discussions with museums in China and Europe, the cargo was purchased by a new Maritime Heritage Foundation in Singapore, which plans to build a museum to house it. See Michael Hecker, 'A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters', The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, vol. XXLX, no. 2, 2000, pp. 199-217 John Guy 'Early Asian Ceramic Trade and the Belitung ("Tang") Cargo', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. LXVI, 2001-02, pp. 13-27 Rosemary Scott 'A Remarkable Tang Dynasty Cargo', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society vol LXVII, 2002-03, pp. 13-26 John Guy 'Early ninth-century Chinese export ceramics and the Persian Gulf connection: the Belitung shipwreck evidence', Taoci: Revue annuelle de la Societe francaise d'Etude de la Ceramique orientale, vol. III, 2005, pp. 9-20.

(11) See John Guy 'The Intan Shipwreck: A 10th-Century Cargo in South-east Asian Waters' in Stacey Pierson, ed., Song Ceramics. Art History Archaeology and Technology, Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia No. 22, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 2004, pp. 171-91.

(12) See Frank Goddio, Stacey Pierson and Modique Crick, Sanken Treasure: Fifteenth Century Chinese Ceramics From the Lena Cargo, London, 2000, p, 9. The wreck was discovered in February 1997.

(14) As the site was inside Vietnamese territorial waters its recovery was supervised by the state (after some looting), although undertaken by a private company. The pick of finds went to Vietnamese museums and the residue was sold by Christie's in Amsterdam in 1992. The archaeological work was supervised by Michael Flecker, who also worked on the Intan and Belitung wreaks.

(15) Christiann J.A. Jong and Michael Flecker, Porcelain from the Vung Tau Wreck. The Hallstrom Excavation Singapore, 2001, pp. 50-51.

(16) Jane Klose, 'Excavated Oriental Ceramics from the Cape of Good Hope, 1630 1830', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. LVII, 1992-93, pp. 69-81. Archives record the shipment in 1615 of c 24,000 items of blue-and-white, and in 1616 of c. 42,000. By 1638 it has been estimated that over 3 million pieces of porcelain had been transported to Europe by the Dutch. See Oliver Impey Chinoiserie. The Impact of Oriental Styles on Western Art and Decoration, London, 1977, p. 92.

(17) Jane Klose 'Oriental Ceramics Retrieved from Three Dutch East India Company Ships Wrecked off the Southern Coast of Africa the Oosterland (1697), Bennebrock (1713) and Brederode (1785)', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol LXIV, 1999-2000, pp. 63-64, Fig.1. See also Jane Klose Identifying Ceramics. An introduction to the Analysis and Interpretation of Ceramics excavated from 17th to 20th century Archaeological Sites and Shipwrecks in the South-western Cape, Historical Archaeological Research Group, University of Cape Town, Handbook no. 1, 2nd ed., 2007, p. 4 (published as a CD).

Rose Kerr is a consultant in East Asian art, Honorary Associate of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, and former Keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

In this article we draw on suites of new information to reinterpret the date of the Java Sea Shipwreck. The ship was a Southeast Asian trading vessel carrying a large cargo of Chinese ceramics and iron as well as luxury items from outside of China, such as elephant tusks and resin. Initially the wreck, which was recovered in Indonesia, was placed temporally in the mid- to late 13th century based on a single radiocarbon sample and ceramic styles. We employ new data, including multiple radiocarbon dates and inscriptions found on some of the ceramics, to suggest that an earlier chronological placement be considered.

Current address: Departments of Anthropology and History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1029 Tisch Hall, 435 South State Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48109-1003, USA.

Current address: Department of Asian Art, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60603-6404, USA.

1. Yamashita’s Gold

WATCH:਍ictator Steals Treasure

Yamashita Tomoyuki was a general in the Japanese Empire who defended Japan’s occupation of the Philippines in 1944 and 1945. According to legend, he also carried out orders from Emperor Hirohito to hide gold and treasure in tunnels in the Philippines, booby-trapped with trip mines, gas canisters and the like. The plan, apparently, was to use the treasure to rebuild Japan after the war.

Since then, there have been many claims about where the gold ended up. In a United States court case, a Filipino locksmith named Rogelio Roxas claimed he discovered some of the hidden gold in the 1970s and that Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos later sent strongmen to steal it from him. The legend has also prompted treasure hunts for “Yamashita’s gold” in the Philippines that continue to this day. 

The new season of Lost Gold of World War II, which documents one such hunt, premieres Tuesday, April 28 at 10/9c on HISTORY.


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Visits and Travels

Only a few yards from this spot at the river banks of the Chang River , flowing through the city of Jingdezhen, the Chinese Imperial kiln was built during the Yuan dynasty. During 700 years this factory produced the best porcelain in the world and became the porcelain factory of the entire world well into the 18th century.

During the centuries all kinds of Chinese porcelain shards and kiln debris has been dumped and discarded as the city grew. So much in fact that the city of Jingdezhen are now said to rest on a thick layer of porcelan shards, 30 feet deep or more in places, we were told.

In 1992 I was invited invited to take part in a study expedition to visit the excavations of the former Imperial Porcelain Kiln, together with Professor Bo Gyllensvärd and two friends. Here is my diary and some of the results and photos from the visit.

Click here to visit my report from Visit to Jingdezhen 1992
Text & Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson.

A Visit to the old Nanfeng kiln in Shiwan, Fushan city near Guangzhou (Canton), 2006

During 2006 I had the pleasure to, together with the Gotheborg III Ship project friends and co-founders Anders and Berit Wästfelt, visit Guangzhou and also take the opportunity to visit the not much visited but very important city of Fushan and the Nanfeng kilns in Shiwan. The staple town for tea and porcelain enamels during the 18th century.

This is the origin of the old Kwangtung wares and the heavily glazed tiles, pots and masterly sculpted figures. Well known from late Ming, popular during Qing and very much alive until today.

Welcome to visit Shiwan with me.

The 17th of July 2006 the rebuilt replica of the first 'East Indiaman Götheborg' arrived at Boca Tigris in the Pearl River delta outside Canton, to later move up to the old anchorage at ' Whampoa ', to come to rest opposite the White Swan Hotel in the center of today's Guangzhou (Canton).

During the last part of the trip HRH the King and Queen of Sweden joined the crew on-board.

The entire project of recreating an 18th century Swedish East Indiaman and sending her to China again and back was all started as a private project by a small group of enthusiastic professionals, based on the excavation of the original East Indiaman Gotheborg .

Since I was one of them, here is my story on the [ PROJECT ] and the [ ARRIVAL IN GUANGZHOU ].
Jan-Erik Nilsson

In July 2006 the rebuilt Swedish East Indiaman 'Gotheborg' Ship finally arrived in Guangzhou, China, or Canton as it was known as during the time of the Swedish East India trade.

Since I had been involved in the starting of the project to build and sail a full scale replica of the East Indiaman Götheborg to China, I also really wanted to explore the City of Canton to see what was left from the early days of the China trade, when we eventually arrived. To my help to use as a map, I had a rare Chinese export porcelain dish - with its main motif, a painting of the old City of Canton .

The dish in itself is from the end of the 18th century but portrays the inner part of the city, behind the European factories located at the river side.

The exact source for this painting still remain to be found, but in the collection of the China Castle in Stockholm, Sweden, dating to the 1740s there is an album leaf which shows a high degree of similarities. [ more ]

In May 2002 I mentioned to some friends in Singapore, that I was planning to visit Southeast Asia again to among other things visit the very important historic trade city of Malacca on the west coast of Malaysia,

The pace of life in Singapore is fast and one hour later I got a call back. Everything was arranged. They would take the day off and if I could sleep for four hours after arrival in Singapore we would leave for Malacca by car at 4 am in the morning, so we would lose the morning traffic and have better driving temperature and that it would only take some three hours of driving anyway .

So, I arrived after some 20 hours of air flight from Sweden via Amsterdam. A few hours later I was whisked off to Malaysia - still fast asleep - to wake up to breakfast and Kopi-O (black coffee without milk) just a few hundred meters from where a beautiful Ming princess and her tourage was set ashore to marry the Sultan of Malacca some 500 years earlier. Which was one of the reasons why I wanted to see this place .

Visit to old Terracotta Pottery Kiln in Bali, 2012

A while ago I visited Bali in an attempt to look for traces of the old Majapahit Kingdom.

While the historic center of the Majapahit Kingdom had been located at the eastern end of the just nearby Java Island, Bali was to me of equal interest. Somewhat I also hoped that more of the old culture would had remained through the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, still predominant in Bali since much of the actual downfall of the Majapahit had been contemporary with Islam becoming the dominating belief on Java.

What I found was a beautiful Island, fairly modern and very friendly, and a local Terracotta Pottery and Kiln, still very much functioning, putting out large terracotta Jardinières for flowers and garden decorations. In was interesting to see how these large pots were made from the mud up to finished lead glazed pots, taller than men.

During March 3-12, 2001 I had the pleasure of visiting Singapore and Hong Kong. The purpose of the visit was to deepen my understanding of the Straits Chinese Porcelain and the related culture.

I also wanted to study 19th and 20th century Chinese porcelain, products of less known "provincial" trade porcelain kilns in Southern China, and to get a first hand impression on the trade in antique Chinese porcelain fakes, to visit several important scholars and collectors in the area, to learn and to take part of their specific knowledge.

Here is a short travel report to summarize some of my thoughts.

Click here to read the report from my Visit to Singapore and Hong Kong, March 2001
Text & Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson.

In September 2001 I got an invitation to visit the base camp of Sten Sjöstrand's marine archaeological and salvage expedition in Malaysia. I did and I am back. After a much needed shower and some rest I put together the following report.

I got to see piles of Si-Satchanalai (Sawankhalok district, Sukhothai) pieces, still in storage from the excavation of the Royal Nanhai 16th century cargo of Celadon ceramics - plus the very reason of my visit - a surface sample collection from the recently discovered 19th century and possibly "Straits Chinese" cargo. Now that can't be said to have been the case, but it was interesting anyway.

Click here to read my letter to the friends on the Gotheborg Discussion Board after my Visit to Sten Sjöstrand off Tioman Island, Malaysia, Sept. 2001
Text & Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson.

Spectroscopic imaging

Lambert is an expert in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of resins and ambers, a technique that produces distinct line graphs for each resin species analyzed. To determine the identities of mystery samples like those from the Java Sea Wreck, he uses as a reference a catalog he has been assembling for 20 years of spectroscopic signatures from resins all over the world. Many of its signatures are from samples obtained by Santiago-Blay in his constant hunt for plant exudates from arboreta, forests and museums worldwide. The catalog now contains spectra “fingerprints” from approximately 2,000 specimens across 1,000 species of plants.

“The general idea is that I get the samples, and Joe generates the spectrum,” Santiago-Blay says. “When we have an unknown sample, we analyze it and compare the output with known samples to make the botanical association.”

Jorge Santiago-Blay holds a piece of amber from the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (Photo by Michelle Donahue)

Resin from the Java Sea Wreck remains a mystery, however. Although the scientists couldn’t identify its exact tree species, they did narrow it down to the tree family Dipterocarpaceae, a group containing nearly 700 species. One member is Shorea robusta, a valued hardwood widespread throughout Southeast Asia.

With the assistance of Diane Wendt, associate curator of science and medicine at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Santiago-Blay went through the collection in that museum to add them to Lambert’s catalog. Among the specimens they examined was a modern Shorea sample. Its spectral signature looks extremely similar to the signature of the Java Sea Wreck sample, yet it is not a perfect match. After 800 years submerged in seawater, the shipwrecked resin seemed to have experienced artificial aging that make its signature look much older than it is.

'Useful tool'

Zheng He was an admiral in the time of "empire", when there were no boundaries, no frontier limits, says China expert Edward Friedman.

"The expeditions were real events - Zheng's achievements were extraordinary and a marvel of the time," says Prof Friedman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But the detail of Zheng's story is open to interpretation, and the version being promoted by the Chinese government ignores history in order to serve foreign policy, he says.

Statesman Deng Xiaoping, regarded as the chief architect of China's "opening up" in the 1980s, said China would never seek hegemony. And President Hu Jintao has said many times that peaceful development is a strategic choice of the Chinese government.

Prof Geoff Wade, a historian who has translated Ming documents relating to Zheng's voyages, disputes the portrayal of a benign adventurer.

He says the historical records show the treasure fleets carried sophisticated weaponry and participated in at least three major military actions in Java, Sumatra and Sri Lanka.

"Because there is virtually no critical analysis of these texts even now - history writing is still in the hands of the state - it's very difficult for Chinese people to conceive of the state as being dangerous, expansionist, or offensive in any way to its neighbours.

"Chinese nationalism is fed on ignorance of its past relations. The way Zheng He is being represented is part of this."

The International Zheng He Society in Singapore disputes this "Western thought", and says the battles that Zheng was embroiled in were either retaliatory or an effort to rid the high seas of pirates.

"These incidents were hardly the nature of true battle but, instead, vividly signify the peaceful diplomacy of Zheng He," said spokesman Chen Jian Chin.

Many layers of myth surround China's ancient mariner. According to Kenyan lore, some of his shipwrecked sailors survived and were allowed to stay and marry local women.

DNA tests have reportedly shown evidence of Chinese ancestry and a young Kenyan woman, Mwamaka Shirafu, was given a scholarship to study Chinese medicine in China, where she now resides.

"She's as much a symbol of international peace and friendship as any historical legacy," says Prof Wade.