A 1,200-year-old shipwreck opens a window on ancient global trade.
In the June number of National Geographic again a great story this time from the Tang period.
The following is from the website of www.sentosa.com the owners of the Tang treasure:
The Tang Treasure
The 9th century shipwreck of Arab or Indian origin was laden almost entirely with Chinese trade and imperial ceramics. It was discovered in 1998 in heavily silted international waters between Sumatra and Borneo. Salvaged from the oldest shipwreck found in Southeast Asia, this rare time capsule dating back 1,200 years features some 60,000 well-preserved artefacts of great cultural, archaeological and historical significance. The Tang artefacts have been authenticated by experts from around the world and key pieces are already widely acknowledged to have rewritten maritime history! Today, many renowned historians and collectors are excited to access it and help unravel its many hidden secrets. Singapore's rich sea trading history and geographical position – right at the crossroads of the maritime trading route between Western Indian Ocean and China – make the republic the perfect location to exhibit this magnificent collection of sunken artefacts.
THE TANG TREASURE
The Tang Treasure was discovered in 1998 by Tilman Walterfang in Indonesian waters between Malaysia and Borneo and salvaged from a sunken 9th century Arab or Indian dhow vessel that was probably bound for what is today's Saudi Arabia. These East Asian antiquities – which are causing the world's collecting and museum circles to redefine the boundaries of historical knowledge – make up some 60,000 items intended for trade and an imperial gift. 98% of the collection is made up of ceramic pieces with the balance artefacts made of gold and silver.
This collection was not only meticulously salvaged by stringent archaeological and conservation procedures, but Tilman Walterfang's company Rickshaw Investments has also ensured professional legal licensing and adherence to world salvage processes, even though the waters where the wreck was found are not governed by UNESCO guidelines.
In archaeological terms, the sunken Tang Treasure is generally not regarded as a particularly large collection. However, its significance lies in the rarity of the artefacts within the collection. To retain the integrity of the find, Tilman Walterfang has stipulated that the collection be bid for and purchased as a single lot, despite pressure from several interested parties and auction houses to sell the collection in smaller lots.
Rickshaw Investments' salvage affiliate Seabed Explorations has also paid meticulous attention to historical, archaeological and conservation procedures throughout its operations, unlike standard treasure hunters. It has received top marks from experts who were invited to supervise the processes. News of this discovery only circulated recently because the company had been running the treasures through the painstaking desalination and immersion processes necessary for proper preservation.
Fact Sheet Three
Special significance of the Tang Treasure
This collection of artefacts has been authenticated by experts from around the world and stand out on several counts:
The Tang shipwreck is the earliest South-East Asian ship discovered to date, and only such vessel in the world with a complete load of 9th century cargo. This makes it the largest collection of 9th century artefacts today.
The shipwreck and its cargo map out a seaborne trading route hitherto only speculated about. The overland silk route was common knowledge but this sunken treasure trove establishes China as the first great sea power, 200 years before the Spanish, Portuguese and British had theirs. This sea route is also the longest of that era, not to be surpassed until the Portuguese ventured into Asia in the late 15th century.
It was a known fact that Arab and China were exchanging gifts. However during the 9th century, China's Tang dynasty was paramount. This valuable gift going from China to Arabia further increases the importance of this find. Moreover, many of the gold items have matching pairs, raising speculation of a royal wedding in Arabia. Some of the motifs featured on the artefacts suggest the blending of Arabic and Chinese cultures. Whatever the occasion, the value and immaculate quality of these items demonstrate the fortification of peaceful relations between China and Arabia.
The ship carrying the Tang Treasure featured Arabic ship building technology using Indian timber. This coming together of different cultures has redefined the parameters of our maritime knowledge.
The three well-preserved blue-and-white ceramic plates from the Tang Treasure offer physical proof that this ceramic technology started much earlier than generally thought. This find rewrites the boundaries of our knowledge.