Finding gold in Bantayan

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13 September 2007 (Cebu Daily News) – With stories like these, one gets the impression that there is a lot of undiscovered archaeological potential in the Philippine islands that have yet to be surveyed, excavated and recovered. In this piece, the author writes about how archaeological material – prehispanic material culture as well as trade ceramics – have been recovered in the town of Bantayan, in Cebu. A map attached here to give you a sense of the geography of the place.

Bantayan Map
click here to go to this googlemap.

Finding gold in Bantayan
By Joeber Bersales

If I had even just 5 percent or P35 million of the P700 million that Erap Estrada was convicted yesterday of plundering from the nation, I will immediately spend P30 million to buy and repair the only remaining tile-roofed trading house in Bantayan—one of three houses built by the legendary Manuel ‘Capitan Tawi’ Rubio at the height of his wealth in the 1850s. I will use the remaining P5 million to carry out a systematic archaeological study of this island as well as of the entire island of Cebu.

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Interview with an underwater archaeologist

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30 July 2007 (New Straits Times) – It looks like it’s another artifact sale in Malaysia, from remnants of shipwrecks in Malaysian waters. These artefacts are left over from archaeological salvage and come from a variety of shipwrecks. I’ll be headed up to KL this weekend, and so I hope to write about the sale there.

New Straits Times, 30 Jul 2007

Klang Valley Streets: Treasures from the deep

TREASURES from the deep go on display and sale in Kuala Lumpur this week at an art fair that showcases an array of Asia’s treasures from the 11th to 19th centuries.

And the man who spent 17 years plumbing the depths of Southeast Asian waters, discovering 10 major shipwrecks, is marine archaeologist Sten Sjostrand.

Sjostrand is proud of his underwater feats and retrieval of precious artifacts: he will have these remarkable pieces showcased at the Asia Art Fair 2007, also an exhibition comprising Asian collectibles and treasures, which opens at the Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur, tomorrow.

The pieces retrieved from the shipwrecks may not be the most aesthetically pleasing in a conventional way or most colourful, but they are definitely timeless treasures that are intriguing and mysterious. Historical artwork has been carved and fired on to these items ranging from ceramics, pottery, ornaments, accoutrements to utensils.
They were found on the shipwrecks from the Tanjung Simpang (the years of 960-1127), Turiang (1370), Nanyang (1380), Longquan (1400), Royal Nanhai (1460), Xuande (1540), Singtai (1550), Wanli (1625), Anantes (1795)and Desaru (1830).

Most of these pieces were the objects of trade between China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. However, it’s the Wanli shipwreck that will be the main feature because of the familiar designs of 17th century Chinese porcelain artwork. It signified the time when European merchants were involved with Asia’s maritime trade and were supplying their domestic markets with Asian products.

Read more about the Malaysian shipwrecks artefact sale.

For books relating to Southeast Asian Shipwrecks and trade ceramics, look up:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown

Another facet of Calatagan unveiled

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1 April 2007 (Manila Bulletin) – Talks about the archaeological finds in Calatagan, in the Batangas region of the Philippines which has a number of archaeological finds indicating trade with China and Vietnam. Calatagan is hoping to attract tourists, with one of its main attractions being the Golden Sunset Resort incorporating a museum featuring the local archaeological finds.

Another facet of Calatagan unveiled

Unknown to most, one of Asia’s major archaeological discoveries lies right in the heart of the once sleepy town of Calatagan, Batangas.

Once a bustling trading port in pre-colonial Philippines, Calatagan was home to early settlers who lived and survived by hunting, fishing, farming, textile weaving, and trade.

But in the 1950s, the whole town went agog when the National Museum conducted its very first systematic excavation. Unearthed were numerous grave sites which yielded artifacts that proved Calatagan was a busy trading port in the 14th century.

Decades of excavations brought about discoveries of artifacts, mostly ceramics of various forms and sizes like jars, plates, saucers, pitchers, jarlets, bowls, and figurines. Some artifacts were locally-made pottery, while others were clearly brought in from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries.

“Archaeologists believe that the excavated objects were proof of maritime trade before the coming of the Spanish colonizers to the Philippines,” explains Wilfredo Ronquillo, chief of the Archaeology Division of the National Museum. “The existence of local and imported ceramics is proof of the extensive and vibrant trade between the early settlers of Calatagan and foreign traders.”

Also among the dug treasures are 15th century Calatagan pottery, such as earthenware plates, basins, pots, and other vessels with different patterns made by incisions and impressions.

There were also the 14th and 15th century ceramics, such as glass bracelets, bowls, and vessels from the Ming Dynasty (China), Celadon and Sawankhalok vessels (Thailand and Indo-China), as well as Annamese vessels (Vietnam).

Related Books:
The Calatagan Excavations: Two 15th Century Burial Sites in Batangas, Philippines by R. B. Fox
Oriental Ceramics Discovered in the Philippines by L. Locsin and C. Locsin

Asian Ceramics in Production and Trade in Southeast Asia’s ‘Age of Empires’


Asian Ceramics in Production and Trade in Southeast Asia’s ‘Age of Empires’
Speaker: John Guy, Senior Curator, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Presented by the Southeast Asia Ceramics Society
Date/Time: Thu 15 Mar 07, 7.30 – 9.00pm
Venue: Level 1, Visitor Briefing Room

The study of ceramics as evidence of material culture is a long established field of enquiry within archaeology, but is relatively new within the associated disciplines of history and art history, where these artefacts are increasingly studied as indicators of cultural dynamics and exchange contacts. This lecture will provide an overview of the way in which the study of historical ceramics in maritime trade both draws on the work of archaeologists and seeks to contextualise these findings and add further layers of meaning by situating them within a broader historical framework.

As excavations increase at mainland Southeast Asian sites, especially Angkor, we must increasingly be alert to the need for secure identification of lesser known imported ceramics that are being discovered. The recent shipwreck evidence will assist us in this process of understanding, interpreting and dating the ceramics which the archaeological landscape of the Southeast Asia is revealing. These ceramics also open up new lines of enquiry into the origins of forms and decorative styles in regional ceramics, most notably in Angkorian-period Khmer ceramic wares, as most dramatically indicated by the Intan and Cirebon cargoes.

Admission is FREE but registration is required. Please register before 13 Mar 2007, by emailing and including “SEA Ceramics” in the subject field. Places are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first serve basis.

About the speaker:
John Guy is Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is well known to members as a widely published specialist on Southeast Asian ceramics and trade ceramic history. He has participated in a number of ceramic site excavations in Southeast Asia, both land and maritime, and most recently spent three days at the Anlong Thom kiln site2, on Phnom Kulen, in Cambodia, the excavation of which was sponsored by the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society.

Related Books:
Lost at Sea: The Strange Route of the Lena Shoal Junk
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown
Oriental trade ceramics in Southeast Asia, 10th to 16th century: Selected from Australian collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Bodor Collection by J. Guy