The Belitung wreck is a time capsule that has revolutionised our understanding of two ancient civilisations… China and the Middle East
Simon Worrall explains why a recent discovery on the seabed of the Indian Ocean will revolutionise our understanding of two ancient civilisations. “The local fishermen believe that there are underwater spirits guarding the wrecks,” says Tilman Walterfang, as our boatman picks his way through a maze of coral reefs and submerged rocks.
“Sometimes, they perform prayers on the boats, sacrificing a goat, spreading the blood everywhere, to keep the vessel safe.”
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.
A British sea captain, shipwrecked here in 1817, called it “the most dangerous area between China and London”.
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. … Among the artefacts was the largest Tang gold cup ever discovered. … – Continues on bbc
And here it is…