The race for Hong Kong's oldest maritime treasure: days remain to retrieve Song dynasty artefact
Plans to recover what is likely to be Hong Kong's oldest maritime artefact were scuttled by bad weather yesterday.
The archaeological diving team will have to wait until early next year to lift the anchor stock which they believe to be a thousand-year-old relic from the Song dynasty.
The plan had been to lift the object - the top part of an anchor - from the Sai Kung seabed and submit it for further study to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.
"I am of course a bit annoyed," said Australian archaeologist Bill Jeffery, who is licensed to retrieve the anchor but is only in Hong Kong for a week.
"But the weather plays a crucial role in this work and you just have to accept that the safety of your divers comes first," he said.
Four members of the Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group first discovered the granite object weighing 80kg on a diving mission in June last year while searching for ceramics.
"It's an unnatural shape so it really stood out - it's a significant find," said Jeffery, adding that being long and rectangular though tapered towards the end, the object resembled other Song dynasty anchors he had seen in mainland museums.
Similar anchors were found with the wreck of a vessel called Nanhai No1 in 2007. It was lifted from the mouth of the Pearl River estuary on the maritime silk road.
The ship contained hundreds of porcelain objects from the Song dynasty and is on display in a museum in Yangjiang , Guangdong.
Hong Kong's waters could potentially be home to its own Nanhai No1.
However, the city has yet to launch a marine survey of its waters, despite mounting international interest in shipwrecks off south China.
Guangdong and Hong Kong could potentially have countless sea wrecks, owing to the trade routes bringing ships from Europe and the Middle East.
China is stepping up its efforts to retrieve wrecks, having developed its own programme in the late 1990s to offset the loss of national heritage to foreign treasure hunters.
The Underwater Heritage Group has submitted a proposal to conduct two year-long underwater archeological searches of local waters, and hopes the Song dynasty find might help persuade the SAR's antiquities authority to give maritime archaeology greater prominence.