Paper: Seafaring Archaeology of the East Coast of India and Southeast Asia during the Early Historical Period

A new Open Access paper published in Ancient Asia:

The concept of trade in ancient India was quite different from modern times. In olden day’s mariners, artisans, traders, Buddhist monks and religious leaders used to set sail together and this trend continued till the advent of modern shipping. The representation of art on the walls of the caves, stupas and temples enlighten us regarding their joint ventures, experiences and problems faced during the sea voyages. The finding of varieties of pottery, punch marked and Roman coins, Brahmi and Kharoshti inscriptions along the ports, trade centres and Buddhist settlements suggest the role played by them in maritime trade during the early historical period and later. Mariners of India were aware of the monsoon wind and currents for more than two thousand years if not earlier. Furthermore, the study shows that the maritime contact with Southeast Asian countries was seasonal and no changes of Southwest and Northeast monsoon have been noticed since then. This paper details the types of pottery, beads, cargo found at ports, trade routes and Buddhist settlements along the east coast of India and the role of monsoons in maritime trade. The impact of Buddhism on trade and society of the region are also discussed.

Source: Seafaring Archaeology of the East Coast of India and Southeast Asia during the Early Historical Period (doi:10.5334/aa.118

A little more about the Spirit of Majapahit

Here’s another news piece on the Spirit of Majapahit, in English, which set off from Jakarta last week and is making its way to Japan.

Ship representing ancient Java kingdom to sail to 8 countries
05 July 2010, Zee News
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Jewel of Muscat arrives in Singapore

At long last! The Jewel of Muscat arrived at its final destination, Singapore, over the weekend and was received by the President of Singapore. The Jewel of Muscat will form the centrepiece of a new maritime museum in Singapore. Read also Jerome’s account of when the Jewel sailed into the harbour in Singapore. If you missed it earlier, you can check out my visit to the Jewel when it called at Georgetown, Penang last month.

Jewel of Muscat arrives in Singapore
Channel NewsAsia, 03 July 2010

Jewel Of Muscat To Become Centrepiece Of Sentosa Maritime Museum
Bernama, 01 July 2010

Jewel of Muscat to be housed at RWS’ Maritime Xperiential Museum
Channels NewsAsia, 01 July 2010
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Aboard the Jewel of Muscat

The Jewel of Muscat is in Georgetown for its last stopover before heading for her final destination, Singapore! Today, I got a chance to go aboard the Jewel of Muscat and talk to project director Dr. Tom Vosmer to get an idea of the inner workings of this replica of a 9th century Arab ship and the journey from Oman thus far.


More pictures and videos after the jump!
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Jewel of Muscat sets sail for Singapore

The Jewel of Muscat, a working re-creation of a 9th century Arab dhow that plied trade between the Middle East and Southeast Asia, set sail from the port of Muscat in Oman on a five-month journey to Singapore, where it will remain as a symbol of friendship between the two countries.

Jewel sets sail on a tide of history
The National, 15 February 2010
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Maritime museum to be constructed in Hoi An

A museum centred on trade activities in the 17th and 18th centuries will be built in the historical city of Hoi An. There doesn’t  seem to be any indication on the date of completion though.

Hoi An to build Faifoo ship museum

Vietnam Net Bridge, 18 September 2009
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Dong Son and the sea

A Dong Son bronze spear and an axe found near the coastline may suggest that the ancient peoples of that culture may have interacted with the sea more than previously thought. I do find the conclusions of the archaeologist in the article stretching a bit too thin when he says that the discovery of the artefacts prove that there was trading activity going on near the sea though.

Artifacts further evidence of East Sea sovereignty: expert
Vietnam Net Bridge, 07 July 2009
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The Belitung Shipwreck

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?


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?

Belitung Shipwreck location

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