Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fabulous World Tour of Belitung Wreck Artifacts Organized

If this comes within 1,000 miles of Milwaukee I'm going, I don't care how I have to get there. The artifacts are mind-blowing amazing. Wow!

News at
Smithsonian and Singapore Organize World Tour of Shipwreck Treasure

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Heritage Board of Singapore today announced a partnership to organize the first exhibition and international tour of one of the oldest and most important marine archaeological finds of the late 20th century.

Bronze mirrors, often called TLV mirrors, were popular during the
Han Dynasty (c. 220 BCE-220 CE) and this one would have been a  valuable antique at the time
of the 9th century shipwreck.  One can only imagine how it became part of the extraordinary cargo.
The mirrors are associated with the goddess Xi Wang Mu,
(Queen Mother of the West), the practice of divination and the ancient game of Liubo. 
The exhibition will focus on the 1998 discovery of a ninth-century shipwreck and its astonishing cargo of about 60,000 objects from Tang dynasty China, ranging from mass-produced ceramics to rare and extraordinary items of finely worked gold. The cargo had laid undisturbed on the ocean floor for more than 1,100 years until sea-cucumber divers discovered it off the coast of Indonesia's Belitung Island. The ship, an Arab dhow, and its contents confirm the existence of a direct maritime trade route (alluded to in ancient Chinese and Arabic texts) from China to the Persian Gulf and beyond-well before the Portuguese set sail in the 15th century.

The discovery offers scholars and scientists an unprecedented time capsule of knowledge about the period and a wealth of unanswered questions that will fuel research for decades to come.

The grand opening of the exhibition will take place in Singapore in late 2010 or early 2011. The Sackler Gallery will host the U.S. premiere in spring 2012, coinciding with the museum's 25th anniversary celebration. The exhibition is expected to travel for about five years to major museums in Asia, the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

A die recovered from the wreck.  Where there is one, there are more.  Was this a personal possession of 
one of the crew?    Did it belong to a game that was being shipped back west?  You can see this is in the
 'modern' form of die with which we are familiar today, cubic, with each face marked with a circle from one to six.  
"We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Singapore on this historic project," said Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries. "The exhibition and tour will enable people around the world to connect with these extraordinary artifacts and feel the impact of a remarkable story that forever changes our view of ancient global trade. Singapore has acted with great understanding and forethought by protecting and preserving these objects collectively as a world treasure and for generously presenting them to the public in the form of an international traveling exhibition."

From the National Geographic (see link below).  These ivory "acorns" were tentatively
identified as "gaming pieces."   I'm pretty sure they are, but as to what game they may
have belonged - it's anyone's guess.  The shape reminds me of 9 men's morris pieces, or Pachisi pieces.
  And here's a second die that looks very similar to the image above. 
The cargo, known as the "Tang Shipwreck Treasure: Singapore's Maritime Collection," was purchased with the support of the estate of Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat shortly after its discovery but has never been publically displayed on a large scale. In the years following their recovery from the sea the objects have remained in private storage, where they have been studied and carefully restored.

"The 'Tang Shipwreck Treasure' has a special meaning for Singapore," said Aw Kah Peng, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board. "Its compelling story resonates with Singapore's growth into a premier port and trading hub. Situated at the crossroads of the East and West, Singapore has always benefitted from the cultural exchange created through trade among the Chinese, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian civilizations, and maintains the same cosmopolitan outlook today. We are particularly honored to join with the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries to develop this important exhibition."

The cargo will provide the focal point for an exhibition of dramatic scope, illustrating the dynamic interchange of ninth-century geopolitical powerhouses along the maritime silk route from Changan (modern Xian) to Baghdad, as well as the human stories of those who toiled in China's factory-like kilns and the ship's crew, whose few surviving belongings provide clues to their multi-ethnic identities.

Changsha ware plate with ancient symbol of the Goddess, the reverse swastika.
The exhibition will reflect the range and size of the find and its significance, as the largest consignment of Tang Dynasty export goods ever discovered: lead ingots, bronze mirrors, spice-filled jars, thousands of glazed bowls, ewers and other fine ceramics, including some of the oldest cobalt-blue-and-white ceramics made in China. Among the anticipated highlights of the exhibition is a small cache of spectacular, intricately worked vessels of silver and gold, unparalleled in quality and design. Why they were carried by the ship and who was destined to receive them are among many questions provoked by the find.

"The extraordinary story of the cargo-a testament of cultural exchanges and interactions in Asia via the Maritime Silk Route-resonates with our work to promote understanding of the rich cultures that make up Singapore's multi-ethnic society," said Michael Koh, chief executive of the National Heritage Board. "Through our partnership with the Freer and Sackler galleries, this remarkable story can now be presented to a wider audience, both locally and internationally."

Often referred to as the Belitung Shipwreck, in reference to the nearby Indonesian island, the dhow, approximately 21 feet wide and 58 feet long, is the only vessel of Arab origin ever found in Southeast Asian waters. Although the goods carried by the ship originated in China, the ship is similar to a type built in the Middle East during the period and for centuries thereafter. The port of departure and destination are unknown, but scholars believe that the ship was bound for the Middle East with a full load of goods from a southern Chinese port, possibly Guangzhou. An accurate reproduction of this vessel, sewn together without the use of a single nail, has been made in Oman and was recently presented by the Sultanate of Oman to the government and people of Singapore. Named The Jewel of Muscat, the vessel sailed from Muscat Feb. 16 and docked in Singapore July 3.
For further information:

Information on recovery of items from the wreck and some photos.
Photogallery at National Geographic.
Inside the Storerooms of the Belitung Shipwreck, by Dr. Victor Mair.

1 comment:

Jewel of Muscat said...

The exhibition (I think it must be the one as Nat Geo are doing it) is here in Muscat from the 14th Dec 2010
The Jewel of Muscat is the name of the boat given to Singapore

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