A very nice article about the discovery and importance of a Tang Dynasty shipwreck discovered off the coast of Indonesia. It evidently was a National Geographic Special on television (?), August 8, 2009. From the Bilingual Times/Taipei Times, August 8, 2009. This wreck is dated to no earlier than 758 CE.
Secrets of the Tang Treasure Ship
Over 1,100 years ago, an international crew of men set sail on a perilous journey. They are returning home from Tang Dynasty China with rare ceramics and gold, created by ninth-century Chinese craftsmen, desired by the rest of the world. For centuries, China has traded with the West over land, via the Silk Road. They traveled safely from the Middle East, all the way to China. But on their return voyage, they made a fateful decision. Here, off the coast of Indonesia, the reef-filled waters are so deadly that ancient sailors called the area the Treacherous Bay.
Tilman Walterfang was lured here in the late 1990s, in search of undersea treasure. An engineer by trade in his native Germany, Walterfang maintains a lifelong passion for ancient art. He comes to Indonesia on a quest for big discoveries. Local fishermen find a mound of ceramics on the seabed. Based on the designs, they appear to have been created between 600 and 900AD, in Tang China. Walterfang hires Mike Flecker, an Australian maritime archaeologist, to manage the excavation. The whole vessel was buried. It had 1,100 years of sediment accumulated on top of that.
Underneath the coral covering are countless jars stacked to the brim with bowls, plates, vases and jewelry. The team recovers some 60,000 pieces, mostly ceramics, but also precious items of gold, silver and bronze. There’s nothing written, there aren’t any archaeological reports. Ancient records tell of Arab and Persian fleets that traversed Asian seas, but no such boat from the time has ever been found.
This one was covered by a layer of sand that prevented worms from attacking the wood. Every element of the wreck is potential evidence that the Maritime Silk Route existed. A bronze mirror bears a compelling clue, with the inscription: "Smelted one hundred times in the city of Yangzhou on the Yangtze river in December 758." Without a doubt, the treasure is from Tang Dynasty China. Radiocarbon analysis dates fragments of the wooden hull to between 700 and 900 AD. During that era, only Arab and Indian craftsmen were building ocean-going ships of this type. The wooden fragments provide crucial evidence of the boat’s origins. Afzilia Africana is a hardwood once prized by the ancient Arab boat builders. The wood is found across Africa, from Senegal to Uganda. If it’s a timber coming from Africa, it’s far more likely that it was just transported the short distance up to Yemen or Oman and the vessel was built there.