A 9th Century AD Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesia: First Evidence for Direct Trade with China
By Michael Flecker
World Archaeology, Volume 32:3 (2001)
Abstract: A well-perserved ninth-century AD shipwreck was excavated in 1998-9 off the Indonesian island of Belitung between Sumatra and Borneo. The principle features of the wreck include planks joined by stitching with wadding inside and outside the hull, a sharp bow with little rake, stitched-in frames, through-beams stitched to the hull, removable ceiling timbers, a keelson and stringers, and a composite iron and wood anchor. Ethnographic and iconographic evidence suggests that these are the features of ancient Indian and Arab vessels, an origin which is strongly supported by the timber species identified in the wreck. The cargo consisted almost entirely of Chinese ceramics,mostly from the Changsha kilns. This is the first clear archaeological evidence to support historical records which imply that there was direct trade between the western Indian Ocean and China during the later part of the first millennium AD.
Introduction: A shipwreck was recently discovered by fisherman just north of the port of Tanjung Pandan on the Indonesian island of Belitung, between Sumatra and Borneo. The fishermen recovered a number of distinctly coloured bowls and ewers which were readily identifiable as originating from the Changsha kilns of Hunan Province, China. Changsha ware was made only during the later years of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906).
The location of the site was obtained by Seabed Explorations, a German company holding a survey and excavation license issued by the Indonesian Government. The company carried out excavation work at the site in September and October 1998; work was suspended during the northwest monsoon and recommenced in April 1999, under the direction of the writer.