Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ancient pottery found on Vietnam's maritime "silk road" (News)

The article below discusses artifacts taken from wrecks found on the "silk road of the sea" off coastal Vietnam probably better described as the "Spice Route."

Most of the pieces found were Thai porcelain from the 15th century. This was at a time when Ming China was sealing itself off in terms of foreign trade.

Paul Kekai Manansala

Tales of treasure and the deep
16:32' 06/04/2006 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet – 1,000 antiques, selected from thousands of ancient pieces reclaimed from 10 wrecks off Vietnam, will be on display at the Ba Ria - Vung Tau Sea Festival 2006.

The ‘Treasure under sea’ exhibition will be accompanied by stories associated with the 1,000 pieces, tales of the sea and its mysteries.

Some years ago, a group divers in southern island Phu Quoc picked up rare antiques from a wreck. They secretly hid the pieces from authorities, concealing them under bushes. Unfortunately, the heritages disappeared from their hiding place, and suspecting each other, the divers tried to take legal action against each other.

Thus, authorities came to know the secrets of the turquoise depths and the treasures the wreck has kept.

According to archaeologists from the Vietnam Archaeology Institute, the wreck, Hon Dam, was first discovered by Kien Giang fishers in 1975, but none of them recognized its horde as treasure. In May 1991, the wreck was reclaimed, and more than 10,000 pieces, mostly Thai Sawankhalok pottery from the 15th century were recovered.

From late 1989, Ho Chi Minh City antiques collectors were roused by information about fishermen in Long Hai Province who had found a wreck off Vung Tau. Tales said the boats hold was full of treasure, a trove of antiques.

The following year, HCM City collectors were trading a number of antiques - mostly pottery – salvaged from the wreck.

Another wreck was found soon after. It was a reclamation undertaken by the Visal Life-Boat Company, and Sweden’s Hallstrom Holdings Oceanic in September 1990. This was the first reclamation of a wreck undertaken in Vietnam. An estimated 270,000 pieces were claimed from the wreck, including Chinese pottery products of the Khang Hy Dynasty (1662-1772). In 1992, 2,800 antiques from it were auctioned in Holland; fetching US$6,7mill for the sellers.

During the 1990 effort, many local fishermen illegally dived the wreck to pick up antiques. One of the men revealed to his family that at least six wrecks were still unplundered off the Vung Tau coast, next to Hon Ba Island. He told his wife to keep the locations a secret, only to be told to their children. Instead, the woman blabbed it all to her brother, who in turn spilled the beans far and wide.

In 1993, the Ba Ria – Vung Tau Museum and Visal continued to explore wrecks around the Hon Ba area. Around 570 ancient Vietnamese pottery items from the 19th century were found. The pottery products were believed to be traditional products of Southern peoples, closely resembling items used by local fisher families.

The “noisiest” case was that of the Hoi An Ship Back, a wreck found off Cu Lao Cham, Quang Nam Province. The Hoi An Ship Back was found and exploited by antiques collectors and local divers in 1990. But it wasn’t until 1997 that authorities and scientists got wind of it.

Dr. Pham Quoc Quan, Director of Vietnam Museum of History remembered that the vessel was 70m underwater, buffered by a current. Organizers spend US$6mill to raise the wreck, but were rewarded with a 240,000-item haul. Scientists also found the remains of 11 people, including the bones of a woman and a boy.

Another wreck, Ca Mau, was found by fishermen from Phan Thiet, central Binh Thuan province. The vessel was easily raised and items collected. It was a Chinese ship carrying nearly 2,000 antiques, mostly dating from 1723-1735. Some of the items were burnt, leading to suspicion that Ca Mau was sunk by fire.

Information from the many thousands of antiques reclaimed from 10 wrecks off Vietnam’s coastline, gives scientists evidence for the supposition that the Vietnamese sea was part of the “silk road” centuries ago, a trade connection between Asia and the West.

According to experts, trade exchange developed during the 10th and 11th centuries, when a number of commercial ports and commercial firms were established, opening the busy silk road of the sea.

(Source: Tuoi Tre)