UNESCO World Heritage Centre – UNESCO Expert Meeting for the World Heritage Nomination Process of the Maritime Silk Routes

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The Maritime Silk Route would naturally include many Southeast Asian stops.

UNESCO Expert Meeting for the World Heritage Nomination Process of the Maritime Silk Routes

There has been much discussion about possible strategies for the nominations on the UNESCO World Heritage List of the impact of maritime trade on the cultures and civilizations between East and West often referred to as the ‘Maritime Silk Routes’. The aim of this UNESCO Expert Meeting for the World Heritage Nomination Process of the Maritime Silk Routes, which will be held on 30-31 May 2017 in London, is to bring together scholars who have worked on the history, archaeology, and heritage of maritime interactions across this vast area in order to discuss the strategy for further research, as well as the development of a platform to enter into a possible dialogue with the States Parties of the World Heritage Convention along the Maritime Silk Routes.

Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre – UNESCO Expert Meeting for the World Heritage Nomination Process of the Maritime Silk Routes

Nanhai No. 1 reveals details of the maritime silk route

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A feature on the ongoing excavation of the Nanhai No. 1, a shipwreck discovered off the coast of Guangdong province in China.

Feature: Ancient shipwreck unlocks secrets of Maritime Silk Road
Xinhua, 02 Feb 2016

The Maritime Silk Road, like the ancient Silk Road, was not only a route of trade, but of communication among civilizations.

“Coastal Guangdong holds the DNA of China’s external exchanges and trade,” says Long Jiayou, director with the Guangdong Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau.

Guangdong had the longest history and most external associations of the Chinese regions on the route.

“Guangdong is also on the route of China’s Belt and Road initiative with its long history and massive overseas trade volume,” says Long.

The Belt and Road Initiative aims to boost connectivity and common development along the ancient land and maritime Silk Roads.

The excavation of the Nanhai No. 1 adds historic significance.

“It has brought China new concepts, innovative methods and technologies in underwater archeology. Moreover, it is a crucial model for the protection of relics along the Maritime Silk Road,” says Long.

Full story here.

Symposium: The Belitung Shipwreck and the Maritime Silk Route

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Readers in Toronto may be interested in a symposium on the Belitung Shipwreck held in conjunction with the exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum.

Aga Khan Museum_Exhibition_Lost-Dhow_800x450_1

The Belitung Shipwreck and the Maritime Silk Route – Symposium
28 February 2015
10am – 5pm
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada

The discovery of the 9th-century Belitung shipwreck in the Java Sea in 1998 revealed an astonishing cargo of close to 60,000 Tang period ceramic vessels as well as a rare collection of intricately worked silver and gold boxes, bronze mirrors, and silver ingots. It also revealed some of the belongings of an international crew that was once on board of this Arab trade ship.

The Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, and the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, are co-hosting a one-day symposium about the shipwreck’s discovery, excavation, its exceptional Tang period cargo, and the important narratives it provides of an active cultural and commercial maritime silk route. International experts discuss the maritime silk route, including the Belitung shipwreck and other recently excavated shipwrecks in the Indian Ocean. The symposium includes a round-table discussion of the historical and ethical implications of shipwrecks and the role of museums as venues for exploring and showcasing archaeological materials.

Details here.

China’s maritime silk road World Heritage Site proposal includes disputed areas

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China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea has been worrying for Southeast Asia and underwater archaeology has played a role in strengthening China’s claim over the sea, over equally legitimate claims by countries like Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China’s is aiming to list the maritime silk road as a World Heritage Site and one could interpret the inclusion of disputed sites as a way to strengthen her claim on territories. Something to keep an eye on in the future – since the maritime silk route was not exclusively used by China and was a truly international trade route that would make better sense with many countries sharing the site listing together.

China looks for UNESCO approval in disputed S China Sea waters
Xinhua, 13 July 2014
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Exhibition showcases Vietnam's role in the maritime silk route

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Thanh Nien News, 20120308

A new exhibition opening in May at the National Museum of History in Hanoi will highlight Vietnam’s role over maritime trade over the east sea, or the South China Sea.

Thanh Nien News, 20120308

Thanh Nien News, 20120308

Hanoi museum to host Silk Road on East Sea exhibition
Thanh Nien News, 08 March 2012
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China offers to help Sri Lanka in shipwreck search

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In what is seen as an attempt to extend the country’s reach, China has offered help with detecting shipwrecks along Sri Lanka’s coastline. Sri Lanka would have been an important stop along the maritime silk route in ancient times.

China offers S.Lanka help to find Silk Route wrecks
AFP, via MSN News, 18 January 2012
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Conference: Ancient Silk Trade Routes in Southeast Asia

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this conference held at the Singapore Management University. Registration closes 15 September.

Ancient Silk Trade Routes – Cross Cultural Exchange and Legacy in Southeast Asia
27–28 October 2011
Singapore Management University
Registration details here
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China identifies 30 more shipwrecks

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China’s Oceanic Administration announced the discovery of 30 shipwreck sites in Chinese waters identified between 2004 and 2009. Many of the sites are located in the waters of China’s southeast coast, which is the gateway for maritime trade between China and Southeast Asia.

China discovers 30 archaeological shipwreck sites
The China Post, 14 December 2010
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The Belitung Shipwreck

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Earlier this month, I was able to catch a lecture about the shipwreck laden with Tang Dynasty treasures that sunk off Belitung island in the 9th century. What was it about this shipwreck that made it so spectacular? What treasures were stored aboard the ship and where was it headed? And what did the Belitung Shipwreck tell us about maritime trade n Asia and Southeast Asia at that time?

 

The Belitung Shipwreck was discovered in 1998 – like most shipwrecks, this one was discovered by chance by some fisherman. The wreck rested on relatively shallow waters – about 17 metres below the sea-level and recovery of the wreck took about two years. It is currently the oldest shipwreck in Southeast Asian waters.

The majority of the cargo (some 60,000 pieces) recovered consists of ceramics, most of which are Changsha ware. Changsha ware was mass produced for export in Tang China, and the dates imprinted on a couple of the bowls place the shipwreck from between 826 and 850AD. Other significant finds from the wreck include lead ballasts, some pieces of resin which would have come from Sumatra, pillow-shaped silver ingots, a number of gold vessels and several rare pieces of high-fired blue-and-white, white ware and Yue wares.

The wreck’s construction strongly suggests that the ship was of Arab or Indian origin: stitched hull planks, the lack of wooden dowels or iron fastenings and later, the identification of the wood type. Combined with the large number of export ware, this find suggests the existence of a Maritime Silk Route, a direct trading link between China and the Arab lands as early as the 9th century.

Dr Rosemary Scott, who gave the lecture on the Belitung Wreck in June goes even further to suggest that the wreck is possibly the most important wreck uncovered to date because the evidence strongly suggests the presence of a Maritime Silk Route, rather than through the role of intermediaries like Srivijaya. Besides the ship’s construction, other evidence for this direct link include the small number of Changsha ware inscribed with “salaam” and other Arabic verse, and the presence of the rare ceramics, all of which have a close association with the imperial court. This in turn suggests the importance of this particular cargo as a form of royal tribute. While Changsha ware is found just about everywhere in the ancient world (all the way to India, Persia and the Near East), the Yue and Xing wares have been found only in a handful of Near Eastern sites, including the ancient city of Samarra in Iraq.

An interesting point about the Belitung shipwreck was its location. Ships plying between China and India would have come down the Malacca strait, into the sphere of Srivijaya influence. Ships would possibly call at the Srivijayan capital at Palembang, before sailing to the Riau islands and up north again to China. The Belitung shipwreck is located a little too far south. Given that the majority of the shipwreck’s cargo was mainly for the Persian market rather than the coastal ports of Srivijaya, the ship would bypass the major Srivijayan markets and take an alternative route through the Sunda Strait (between Sumatra and Java), before heading northwest to India – stil Srivijayan territory, but not as important as the ones along the Malaccan strait..

The material for this post was based on my notes during the talk on the Belitung Shipwreck by Rosemary Scott at the National University of Singapore Museum in June 2007, as well as a 2001 paper by Dr. Michael Flecker in World Archaeology.
Books about shipwrecks in Southeast Asia:
The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia by Himanshu Prabha Ray
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells