Major underwater archaeological projects

2024-06-24 08:18:30China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

1. Nanhai One shipwreck in Guangdong province, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)

Discovered in 1987 off the coast of Yangjiang, Guangdong province, it is the first major shipwreck ever found in the South China Sea (Nanhai) under China-initiated programs. Systematic research centering on this ship carrying cargo began in 2000. It was salvaged in 2007 in a pool-type container. From 2014 to 2019, archaeologists "unearthed" the shipwreck from its sand covering.

Over 180,000 cultural relics, proof of the prosperous Maritime Silk Road, have been recovered from the shipwreck, which is 22.9 meters long and 9.8 meters wide with a 2.7-meter-deep hull, making it among the biggest underwater archaeological discoveries in China. About 170,000 well-preserved porcelain objects below deck provide crucial references for studying Chinese exported ceramics in particular. Related follow-up lab research is expected to last well into the future.

2. Shengbeiyu sea area shipwreck in Fujian province, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

In 2010, a typhoon led to the discovery of a Yuan Dynasty shipwreck in the Shengbeiyu sea area near Gulei Peninsula, Zhangzhou, Fujian province. Since 2014, archaeological efforts have been conducted on the shipwreck to confirm its former status and retrieve cultural relics.

The remains of the vessel are about 16.95 meters long and 4.5 meters at the widest point. It has 10 sections with nine panels separating them. More than 17,000 cultural relics were retrieved from the water, most of which are celadon porcelain produced by kilns in Longquan, Zhejiang province. These include bowls, plates, dishes and cups dating back to the later part of the Yuan Dynasty.

The Yuan Dynasty witnessed a peak in maritime trade with an active and open maritime trade policy. The sunken ship and precious artifacts retrieved from it are important evidence of that historical period and display the prosperity of the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

3. Changjiangkou No 2 shipwreck in Shanghai, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Discovered in 2015, the Changjiangkou No 2 shipwreck originally sat 5.5 meters below the ocean bed at a shoal on the northeastern tip of Hengsha Island in Chongming district, Shanghai. It dates back to the reign of Emperor Tongzhi (1862-75) in the Qing Dynasty.

In 2022, the ship was retrieved, with its remains about 38.1 meters long and 9.9 meters at its widest point. A total of 31 cargo chambers were detected, with its main structure quite complete, including the prow, bollard, portside and starboard.

Piles of ceramics made in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province have been retrieved from the vessel. Also found on the wreck or scattered near it were purple clay objects, hookah pots made in Vietnam, cables and construction materials. It is one of the largest and best-kept ancient wooden boat wrecks, with the biggest number of cultural relics on board both in China and the world.

4. Shipwrecks of the Beiyang Fleet in Liaoning and Shandong provinces, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Since 2013, comprehensive archaeological research focusing on the sunken Chinese battleships of the Beiyang Fleet during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) has been conducted along the coasts of the two provinces.

The Battle of the Yalu River in 1894 and the Battle of Weihaiwei in 1895 were two major naval engagements between China and Japan during that war, which had a lasting influence on the history and geopolitics of East Asia. Losing the battles led to the annihilation of the Beiyang Fleet, an early-stage modernized Chinese navy.

The past decade's research has located all related Qing shipwrecks, among these the ironclad battleship Dingyuan, the famous flagship of the fleet. Numerous recovered relics, including constructional components and artillery cannons of the ships and sailors' personal belongings, help clarify many historical rumors and fill in the gaps in studies of naval history.


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