Yuan Dynasty shipwreck cargo salvage underway

2022-09-09 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

Researchers began the salvage of cultural relics on Thursday from a shipwreck of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) off the coast of Fujian province, hoping to reveal treasures of the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

A great loss was suffered some 700 years ago when a ship full of porcelain sank in the sea near what is now Shengbeiyu Island, Zhangzhou city, Fujian. However, from a modern perspective, the tragedy is full of ancient information for archaeological researchers to decode.

In 2014, 2016 and 2021, three underwater archaeological efforts were undertaken in the area, identifying the exact location and the state of the shipwreck.

Research shows the shipwreck is 13.07 meters long and at its widest measures 3.7 meters. With six bulkheads, it has at least seven cabins that contain piles of porcelain. In the last underwater investigation in 2021, researchers salvaged nearly 700 artifacts, including bowls, plates and incense burners.

This year's archaeological work covers about 280 square meters, and will last 100 days. Some artifacts, mainly celadon produced in the Longquan Kiln, were collected on Thursday.

Sun Jian, director of the underwater archaeology institute of the National Centre for Archaeology, said the main type of porcelain on the ship is of the Longquan production type, and is a typical example of maritime trade in the late Yuan Dynasty.

"At overseas sites related to maritime trade, you can find a large amount of Chinese porcelain produced from the end of Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) to the early stage of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Among them Longquan Kiln productions play a major part," said Qin Dashu, a professor at the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University.

Different from the Longquan celadon artifacts produced in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), which seem to be basic without many decorative elements, people in the Yuan Dynasty added more decorations to their work, showing the changes in their aesthetics.

"In the middle and late Yuan, people added stamps and carved designs to the artifacts for better sales, so that they can meet the needs of ordinary people and overseas markets," said Shen Yueming, a professor at the Department of Cultural Heritage and Museology at Fudan University.

The Song and Yuan dynasties saw a peak in ancient Chinese maritime trade. Not far from Zhangzhou is Quanzhou city, a center of the trade at that time. "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China" was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List last year.

The shipwreck lies on a sea route that belonged to the ancient Maritime Silk Road. Near the route are many reefs and turbulent currents, leading to complex sea conditions. As a result, accidents occur frequently even today.

According to Fu Qisheng, head of the Fujian Provincial Bureau of Cultural Heritage, research on the Shengbeiyu shipwreck is meaningful for telling a better story of the Maritime Silk Road, the communication between China and foreign countries, and Fujian's underwater archaeology.

Most popular in 24h