GUANGZHOU - With the excavation of the wreck of an ancient Chinese merchant ship, archaeologists expect to find a trove of historical relics, unveiling more details of the Maritime Silk Road.
The first phase of the excavation of the vessel, Nanhai No. 1, will finish at the end of this month, Sun Jian, technical director of the Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Center of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
"After a five-month break to avoid the negative impact of the hot summer on the vulnerable ship, we will launch the next phase in October," Sun said, noting that all the upper silt has been cleared off the ship.
The 30-meter-long vessel was hoisted from a depth of 30 meters below the surface of the South China Sea in late 2007.
Since then, it has been submerged in a sealed pool, dubbed the "Crystal Palace," at the Maritime Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang in south China's Guangdong Province.
Sun said it would take three more years to fully complete the excavation work.
First discovered in 1987 off the coast near Yangjiang, Nanhai No.1 dates back to the Southern Song Dynasty in the 13th century and is recognized as one of the oldest and biggest merchant boats ever sunk in Chinese waters.
Sun said the work of clearing silt in the current stage is important as it will allow archaeologists to extract animal and plant specimens to conclude where the ship had sailed, unveiling more details of the ancient trade route of the Maritime Silk Road.
As early as 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese traders began taking china, silk and cloth textiles and other commodities to foreign countries along the trading route. They left from ports in today's Guangdong and Fujian provinces and sailed to countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.
Archeologists estimate that there are about 60,000 to 80,000 antique items in the wreck, most being porcelain, precious metal objects and coins. The relics recovered from the ship are expected to shed light on the prosperity and workings of ancient trade.
"From the relics already recovered, archaeologists have concluded that businessmen from Arabian countries and India might have lived on the ship," Sun said.
The Marine Silk Road, like the ancient Silk Road that connected China with south, west and central Asia and Europe, was also a bridge for connecting Eastern and Western cultures, said Huang Tiejian, Curator of the Maritime Silk Road Museum.
"The ancient Marine Silk Road is not only a route of trade, but also a route of cultural exchange," Huang said. "With its help, China and other countries were able to enjoy prosperity at the same time."
Earlier news about the Nanhai No. 1:
Ancient ship back in business
CCTV.com 25 December 2009
YANGJIANG, Guangdong: A major underwater museum housing an 800-year-old merchant ship opened to the public in this coastal city in western Guangdong province yesterday.
The 30-m wooden vessel, named Nanhai No 1, or South China Sea No 1, lies in a "crystal palace" made of glass inside the Maritime Silk Road Museum.
"Today marks a new journey for the ancient merchant ship," said Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
|Tourists watch the excavation of relics from the 13th-century Chinese|
ship, Nanhai No 1, at the Maritime Silk Road Museum in Hailing island
of Yangjiang, Guangdong province, yesterday. [China Daily]
It was discovered early in 1987 off Hailing island of Yangjiang.
The debut of the ship will help Chinese scientists better conduct underwater archaeology and discover China's maritime and porcelain history, Shan said.
The ship has been kept in water, but the environmental conditions, including the temperature, constituents and pressure, remain the same as the waters where it was found, said Shan.
"The ship looks like it did before it was raised from the sea, and we built two underwater sightseeing corridors and a platform in the glass pool," Shan said.
The vessel was moved to the pool after it was salvaged from the sea two years ago.
The Guangdong provincial government invested nearly 200 million yuan ($29 million) for the construction of the 12,200-sq-m museum, which started in 2005 and was completed last month.
It also displayed several hundred precious relics salvaged from the wreck. The exhibits are only a fraction of some 6,000 items, mostly porcelain, found during initial excavations between August and September.
"We hope more visitors can appreciate archaeologists' efforts in the discovery of the ship. The museum will allow more people to know more about rare and traditional Chinese treasures," Shan said.
Also yesterday, archaeologists were busy excavating relics from the ship.
- Shipwreck relics of "Nanhai One" on show in Guangdong 2009-12-04
- Research on porcelain pieces from Nanhai No.1 2009-10-22
- The secrets of Nanhai No.1 2009-01-21