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Archive for the ‘Chinese Archaeology’ Category

If you remember THIS post from a while back, you’ll already know that several months ago, an 800 year-old merchant vessel dubbed “Nanhai No. 1” was successfully located and excavated from the coastal waters of Guangdong Province. Well, recently, another vessel, this one called “Nan’ao-1,” dated roughly 400 year old was found, and salvage excavation is now underway.

According to the report from Xinhuanews, the plan is to excavate the more than 10,000 pieces of locally produced, Ming Dynasty porcelains that were the ship’s main cargo, and then attempt to raise the remains of the ship itself for further study. The excavators claim that “the excavation of the ship will help us learn more about China’s foreign trade at that time.”

The article also notes that the project has been postponed several months due to poor weather and working conditions, but no mention was made of how the finds will be preserved. “Nanhai No. 1” is currently being kept “…in a glass pool at a local museum, the water there duplicating the conditions in which the wreck was found.”

Hopefully, a similar arrangement will be made for “Nan’ao-1.”

Interestingly, these articles never go into full detail about either the projects, of the preservation conditions of the finds… or what happens to the artifacts after they are excavated…something to keep in mind. However, that they claim to be doing the up most to preserve the wreckages is promising.

What this newest excavation shows, however, is that Guangdong’s coastal waters are rapidly becoming a hotbed of underwater archaeology in China, which is itself a budding discipline. It will be interesting to see, in the future, whether Western scholars will be allowed to participate in such projects and whether Chinese underwater archaeology can become a “next big thing.” It also makes me wonder what the state of underwater looting is in China… a subject that has not yet been broached on many fronts. Does anyone out there in the blogosphere have any information on it? I’ll try to do some digging on the subject, but my gut instinct says that somehow, it is not as developed in China as it is in other areas of the word…. prove me wrong!

So far in China, according to the report, salvage archaeology and underwater archaeology is still very much a state-run enterprise.

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If you recall THIS post on this blog several months ago, you’ll remember that China has recently been funding a full-scale excavation of a submerged Ming dynasty merchant vessel that sank off of the coast of Guangdong nearly 800 years ago.

Well, on December 3rd, Xinhuanet posted that over 2,000 visitors turned up to the  soft opening of a museum dedicated to showcasing the remains of the vessel as they are being uncovered and studied. The museum is said to open for good on December 24th of this year.

According to the article, construction of the museum began in 2006, and cost more than 200 million RMB (approximately 29 million USD). Despite the costly construction, attendees complained that the exhibitions were quite small, consisting only of some porcelains and a small amount of silver and gold pieces. The reason, most likely, for the small size of the exhibits is that the true, full-scale excavation of the vessel, despite having been brought to the surface of the ocean for quite some time already, is not set to begin until next year.

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On June 21st, China announced that a 3-5 year plan for excavating and studying the remains of a shipwrecked merchant vessel dating to the Song Dynasty shall commence shortly.

The vessel, known as Nanhai No. 1 was a merchant trading vessel that sank off the coast of Guangdong Province.

Guangdong Province highlighted in red

Guangdong Province highlighted in red

In 2007, it was successfully pulled from the sea and has been housed in the newly constructed Marine Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang, Guangdong, in a tank of silt and seawater measuring 64 meters long, 40 meters wide, 23 meters high and about 12 meters in depth.

China is hoping that the information gleaned from excavating this well-preserved vessel will lead to new insights about the supposed Maritime Silk Road trading route.

Maritime Silk Road Trading Route highlighted in BLUE

Maritime Silk Road Trading Route highlighted in BLUE

Everyone is(or should be) familiar with stories and history of the Silk Road’s land routes by now, but marine trade between east and west during the last thousand years has never really been studied, mostly because nautical archaeology is notoriously difficult, especially on the cultural heritage front.

For the most part, underwater archaeological and cultural heritage sites t belong to the country in whose territorial waters they are located. That means that generally, if a site is located near the coast of a country, by law, that site belongs to that country. Both the US and China have domestic laws that stipulate this, though the difference between them is that in the US, if the site is located on private property, the owner can do with it as they wish, and in China, all sites within all territorial waters belong to the government.

Now, WHERE a country decides their territorial waters begin and end has been a thorn in the side of underwater archaeological site protection. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles off the very edge of the country’s coastline in all directions.* The problem with China is that it often claims property rights to ancient Chinese merchant vessels, like the Nanhai No. 1, that are currently located in the territorial waters of other modern nations. How these issues get resolved are not often reported, so it’s really anyone’s guess.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how well-preserved the Nanhai No. 1 is now that is has been removed from the ocean and kept in a tank for the past several years. Hopefully it will yield useful information about Song Dynasty maritime trading, a subject that is not often studied by archaeologists, and open up a new field of inquiry for those interested not only in East Asian maritime history, but also in underwater archaeology.

As for the question of whether the Marine Silk Road actually exists, I don’t know, but I can see why China would hope that it does.

*This is a very meatball overview of the laws governing underwater archaeology. The actual circumstances are far more complex, and are constantly subject to change. There are also constant problems between international and domestic legislation concerning maritime property that require much more extensive coverage than can be provided here.

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Definitely check out this online petition that is aimed at getting China’s Cultural Heritage authorities to release more information about their plans for the demolition and rebuilding of Kashgar.

The makers of the petition are trying to “appeal for the public distribution of a plan to preserve and protect what remains of Kashgar and the Uighur culture. This plan should focus on the further study of the historical old town and protect both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Most importantly, this plan should be made available to the public, for scrutiny and encouragement.”

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“Chinese authorities have taken the rare step of banning tourists from a key protection area of the renowned Mount Wuyi on the World Heritage List to better preserve the environment…” was a statement from local authorities in Fuzhou, where Mt. Wuyi, which was named a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, is located. the site comprises a national nature reserve and a scenic area in eastern Fujian Province.

Limestone karsts

Limestone karsts

According to the evaluation of the site made by UNESCO, archaeological evidence has shown that the Mountain area has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years. The people there gradually developed the Minyue culture, which was unique in this remote corner of China. The remains left by the many cultural groups that have occupied the area are still visible today.Some of the most well known archaeological sites in the area include, according to the article, a “Han City established in the 1st century B.C. and a number of temples and study centers associated with the birth of Neo-Confucianism in the 11th century A.D.”

Indeed, this region was well known to be somewhat of a hub of Neo-Confucian and Taoist intellectual activity, and was home to may of the 11th and 12th century academies, of which the famed Song Dynasty philosopher, Zhuxi, was a member.

450px-Wuyi_Yulu49239

In addition, the site is known for its biodiversity, including 11 categories of vegetation, 475 species of vertebrates, and 4,635 types of insects.

UNESCO World Heritage states that:

“Systematic conservation may be considered to have begun as early as the 8th century AD, when Tang
Emperor Xuanzhong
declared Wuyishan to be a celebrated mountain and issued an edict controlling
forestry operations, thereby protecting the landscape as a whole. The first supervisor of the area was appointed
by the Imperial court in 1121. Further protection and development control resulted from the establishment of
the Imperial tea plantation in 1302.”

The latest ban on tourism, which will only limit non-academic tourists from entering the very central area of the site (the scenic area surrounding Mt. Wuyi will remain open to the public), will the latest effort in the conservation of this cultural and natural treasure.

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