Shipwreck treasure joining Basra and Hunan

I am on a fishing boat in the Gaspar Strait, near Belitung Island, off the south-east coast of Sumatra.

Since time immemorial, this funnel-shaped passage linking the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean has been one of the two main shipping routes. The Malacca Straits is the other, from China to the West.

Ten years ago, at a spot known locally as “Black Rock”, two men diving for sea cucumbers came across a large pile of sand and coral. Digging a hole, they reached in and pulled out a barnacle-encrusted bowl. Then another. And another.

They had stumbled on the oldest, most important, marine archaeological discovery ever made in South East Asia, an Arab dhow – or ship – built of teak, coconut wood and hibiscus fibre, packed with a treasure that Indiana Jones could only dream of.

There were 63,000 pieces of gold, silver and ceramics from the fabled Tang dynasty, which flourished between the seventh and 10th centuries.

The Belitung wreck is a time capsule that has revolutionised our understanding of two ancient civilisations that fill the airwaves today, China and the Middle East

Interesting article [“from our own correspondent”] about a shipwreck from 1,200 years ago. A cross-cultural record set in time, we begin to get a clearer picture of commerce between Persia and China. A start to a study which could occupy your waking hours for decades. 🙂

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