via SSEAC Stories, 17 September 2020: Dr Natali Pearson talks about her research about the Belitung Shipwreck and the controversy surrounding its excavation and display.
In 1998, Indonesian fishermen diving for sea cucumbers discovered a shipwreck off Belitung Island in the Java Sea. The ship was a Middle Eastern vessel constructed from planks sewn together with rope — and its remarkable cargo originally included around 70,000 ceramics produced in China, as well as luxurious objects of gold and silver. Whether the vessel sank because of a storm or other factors as it traversed the heart of the global trading network remains unknown. Bound for present-day Iran and Iraq, it is the earliest ship found in Southeast Asia thus far and provides proof of active maritime trade in the ninth century among China, Southeast Asia, and West Asia.
In spite of its historical significance, the Tang Shipwreck’s destiny has not been smooth sailing. After being salvaged from Indonesian waters, the ship and its cargo were purchased by Singapore, and soon, controversies emerged around its provenance.
In this episode, Dr Natali Pearson gets on the other side of the mic and chats with Professor Michele Ford about the Tang Shipwreck, how its underwater treasures were salvaged from looting in Indonesia, and the controversies it stirred in the world of maritime cultural heritage.