Podcast: Treasures of the South China Sea

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It’s the first SEAArch podcast! We go on-location to the Aquaria @ KLCC, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to bring you a first-hand look at the Treasures of the South China Sea exhibition, on now until the end of this month. Please leave comments and feedback!

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Transcript

It’s a hazy day in Kuala Lumpur, and we are on our way to the KLCC where the famous Petronas towers are standing. The Petronas towers are currently the tallest buildings in the world, but we’re not going up the towers today, instead we are heading underground and back in time.

The Treasures of the South China Sea exhibition at the Aquaria is a rare chance to get up close and personal with artefacts dating as far back as one thousand years. Organised by Nanhai Marine Archaeology and supported by the Malaysia Department of Museums, the exhibition showcases artefacts retrieved from ten shipwrecks found in the waters of Malaysia.

In chronological order, the ten shipwrecks are: The Tanjung Simpang, Turiang, Nanyang, Longquan, Royal Nanhai, Xuande, Singtai, Wanli, Anantes and Desaru. The wrecks are named arbitrarily, sometimes named after their present locations and at other times named after some characteristic feature. They date from the 10th century right up to the 19th century and cover the Chinese dynasties of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing.

Most of the pieces in the exhibition are on sale and collectors interested in owning a piece of history might be interested in buying a gong, a bowl or a pair of spoons from the Desaru shipwreck. For my part – and my meagre budget – I got a miniature celadon jarlet retrieved from the Royal Nanhai wreck that dates to around 1450. I also bought a book on Malaysian Shipwrecks.

The company behind the retrieval of these artefacts, Nanhai Marine Archaeology, works very closely with the Malaysian Department of Museums. Sten Sjostrand, the principle investigator and founder of the company sees himself as a marine archaeologist rather than a treasure hunter or antique dealer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to speak with him when I was there, but from what I hear, he’s really passionate about his work and so hopefully we can hear from him in another podcast.

The Museums Department gets its choice of artefacts and 30% of the retrieved finds, and the remaining 70% are sold by the company. The money raised is used to fund future marine expeditions. This exhibition is special, however, because it may be one of the last ever and so if you have the time, you should make the trip down because Mr Sjostrand is said to be retiring.

The Treasures of the South China Sea Exhibition is on at the Aquaria at KLCC until the end of October. For more information, you can visit Nanhai Marine Archaeology’s website at www.mingwrecks.com and don’t forget to visit the SEAArch website at S-E-double A-R-C-H dot wordpress dot com for a full transcript of this podcast and more news and resources on the archaeology of Southeast Asia.

Music for this podcast was by Gamelan Nyai Saraswati from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can send your comments, feedback and suggestions to seaarch@gmail.com. Until next time, this is Noel signing off for the SEAArch podcast.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Related Books:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
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