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Maritime Asia

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Last modified:
8 Jun 2014
 

What's new - Maritime Asia

8 Jun 2014: A sewn boat tentatively dated to the C8-9th has been found in the Chao Phraya delta of the Gulf of Thailand, heartland of the Dvaravati civilisation. (Map of the known world in the mid C8th). The 'Phanomsurin' ship traded widely: the cargo included amphoras as well as ceramics from China. A near-contemporary of the Belitung ship, this exciting find should add greatly to our understanding of the Silk Road of the Sea.

A wonderful overview of this topic has been published: 'Singapore & the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800'. This book by Prof John Miksic deserves a much wider audience than may be attracted by the title. The history of Singapore from 1300-1800 is indeed fascinating, and until recently underappreciated: local textbooks now take account of its earlier golden age. However, the book also provides an excellent overview of larger topics: the 1500 year pre-European history of the lost kingdoms of Southeast Asia from Han/Roman times up to the arrival of the Portuguese, and the mostly-maritime interactions of these kingdoms, in the context of the maritime silk route. Over the last few decades, much has been learned from archaeological sites on land and at sea: not all has been published, that which has been published is not always easy to access, and a synthesis was much needed. This account by Southeast Asia's leading regional archaeologist is invaluable, and an excellent read.

31 Mar 2014: 'Shipwreck ceramics and the fall of Melaka' discusses the impact of recent shipwreck discoveries on Southeast Asian history, and the evidence for a significant trade disruption lasting for years after the fighting in Melaka in January 1512. This is the online version of a 2007 talk by the late Dr Roxanna Brown. Her sweeping overview gives some idea of the potential for fresh insights from archaeological evidence. Such evidence is usually fragmentary; new discoveries are rarely fully documented; and the information that is published is often hard to access. Roxanna talked to everybody, visited new sites however remote or uncomfortable, pragmatically drew evidence from all sources and disciplines, was delightfully collegiate and constructive, made good use of all communication channels, and imparted her infectious enthusiasm for intellectual puzzles to many new participants. Her absence is keenly felt.

5 Jun 2013: Newly added to the MUA website, a section on the maritime history and archaeology of Vietnam: The Vietnam Maritime Archaeology Project Center.

25 May 2013: 'Walking Beijing's Waterways', a series of short videos by D J Clark for China Daily, is also on YouTube (maybe easier to view), with maps here. Building on the excellent website 'Beijing's Forgotten Waterways' (www.hultengren.com/beijing/Rivers/welcome.html with more detail at www.hultengren.com - Beijing rivers), it's a great introduction to the lakes, rivers and canals that are key to the history and geography of the city - and to the contrasts of life in modern Beijing.

23 Oct 2012: The sister site Maritime Lanka has been moved to this site, and can now be accessed directly at www.maritimeasia.ws/maritimelanka/.

7 Aug 2012: 'International trawlers on voyages of undersea destruction' describes the devastation we so often see - and mentions 'catastrophic rates of species decline' without suggesting that this might be a factor?

23 May 2012: Two working papers on the website of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre: Kwa Chong Guan, 'Locating Singapore on the Maritime Silk Road: Evidence from Maritime Archaeology, Ninth to Early Nineteenth Centuries'; and Stephen Davies, 'Maritime Museums: Who Needs Them?'.

15 Apr 2011: The National Geographic documentary 'Secrets of the Tang treasure ship' is available on the internet: parts 1, 2, 3, 4; so too is a five minute video in Mandarin and English, which includes comments by Dr Michael Flecker and Prof John Miksic.

28 Feb 2011: The cargo of the Belitung wreck is now on display at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, and will then go on world tour for five years. The catalogue, 'Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds', has been published by Smithsonian Books. The Jewel of Muscat is also in Singapore, and is to be displayed in Sentosa.

1 June 2010: The Jewel of Muscat is approaching Penang, after braving squalls, rough seas, storm damage, and the monotony of the doldrums on her journey from Oman. See logs, photos, position etc.

A fascinating, if tantalising, website on the C10th Cirebon wreck is at http://cirebon.mariemont.museum.

Minor corrections have been made to the page on ship types.

An extensive, and growing, bibliography may be found at the foot of the chronology page. This is the page which is most often updated, and for which we do not make separate notes here.

13 Dec 09: The Jewel of Muscat, currently being built in Oman, is a reconstruction of the C9th Belitung wreck, and will sail to Singapore in 2010. Singapore bought the entire cargo in 2005, saving it from piecemeal dispersal at auction, and raising hopes of exemplary academic access, documentation, and public display. A few of its magnificent treasures, including fine silverware and the earliest known blue-and-white ceramics, were exhibited briefly at the Asian Civilisations Museum, but it has since disappeared from public view, and details of the cargo have yet to be published. The Jewel of Muscat's progress may be followed on www.jewelofmuscat.tv.

23 Nov 09: A transcript of the ABC documentary 'Junk History' has been linked from the 1421 bunkum page.

8 Nov 09: Excellent descriptions of the history, routes, and current appearance of the Yuan dynasty canalworks are on Irving Hultengren's website, www.hultengren.com - see Beijing, rivers.

30 Oct 09: A recent visit to Beijing included a visit to an excellent small museum commemorating the achievements of Guo Shoujing (1231-1316), the eminent scientist, astronomer and water engineer who linked the city to the Grand Canal and redirected its water supply. The museum is in the delightful Huitong temple at Jishuitan, on the side of the lake which in Yuan dynasty times was much larger and the site of a bustling port. The museum deserves to be much better known, and is easily accessible with its directions & map.

9 Jun 08: We mourn the senseless death on 14 May of Dr Roxanna Brown, a highly esteemed colleague and the founding director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum in Bangkok. Roxanna's death is a tragedy for historians of Southeast Asia, due to her focus on the archaeological evidence, her wide-ranging cross-border and interdisciplinary contacts, her collaborative nature, and her communication initiatives. Roxanna is greatly missed, with shock and outrage over the circumstances of her final days:

  • 'A museum director's death in an American jail', John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel
  • 'Arrested art historian dies in detention center', Seattle Times
  • 'In memoriam - Roxanna Maude Brown', UCLA International Institute

26 Dec 07: The book on the excavation and ceramic cargo of the Wanli shipwreck, dated to approximately 1625, is a beautifully produced volume from the Department of Museums Malaysia and Sten Sjostrand, and is available from www.mingwrecks.com/publications.html(3).

24 Apr 06: Our inadequate efforts to keep up with the Menzies bandwagon have been superceded by an admirable new website: www.1421exposed.com.

5 Apr 06: Additional notes & resource links have been added to the 1421 bunkum page.

14 Dec 05: Captain Rivers' book '"1421" Voyages: Fact & Fantasy'(1) is available & can be airmailed by Select Books.

27 Nov 05: The entire cargo of the Belitung wreck, an Arab or Persian vessel carrying Chinese ceramics which may date from the 820's AD, was bought by Singapore, and some of the greatest treasures are on display in a temporary exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Empress Place. This has been poorly advertised, and should be attracting global interest.

The Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore is providing electronic working papers online, at www.ari.nus.edu.sg/SGSoutheastAsiaChina.htm. Several will be of interest to readers of this website, including The Zheng He Voyages: A Reassessment by Dr Geoff Wade. There is also a link to Dr Wade's translation of the Southeast Asian references from the Ming Shi-lu, the Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty.

10 Nov 05: Three new European shipwrecks of the 16th or early 17th century have been discovered in the Straits of Malacca by Dr Michael Flecker: see photos on www.maritime-explorations.com.

The publishers describe Gavin Menzies' book '1421' as a work of history. Dr Geoff Wade considers this a breach of the UK Trade Descriptions Act, and has lodged an official complaint, explaining why he regards it as a fairytale. He has also written to the Canadian authorities regarding 'The Island of Seven Cities', a forthcoming book by Paul Chiasson, which should likewise be reclassified as fiction, and urges others to do likewise. Both letters are reproduced here: Popular History and Bunkum.

Over 76,000 beads found at Kampung Sungai Mas near Lembah Bujang in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah are regarded as evidence of an international port which flourished between the 5th and 11th centuries. Three related press articles: (1), (2), (3).

30 Jun 05: Zheng He's sexcentenary, by Bruce Doar, is a summary of the voyages, scholarly status, and commemmorative events, with a bibliography of both Chinese & foreign sources.

24 Apr 05: Captain P.J. Rivers has addressed some of the inaccuracies, implausibilities, internal consistencies and unsubstantiated assertions of Gavin Menzies' bestseller in '"1421" Voyages: Fact & Fantasy'(1), now available at bookshops in Malaysia and Singapore (including Kinokuniya, which has online sales, if you search by ISBN number, but for delivery only in those two territories). While acknowledging that Menzies has at least drawn attention to the underappreciated Ming voyages, Rivers is scathing about his sweeping hypotheses, and about many of his specific assertions on sailing patterns, charts, etc.

The best overview of the Zheng He voyages in English remains 'When China ruled the seas' by Louise Levathes(2).

27 Oct 04: Tang dynasty ceramics and other artefacts from the Belitung wreck, an Arab/Persian/Indian ship of the 9th century which appears to have been trading directly with China, will be exhibited in Singapore in 2005.

20 Jul 03: The report on the excavation of the Desaru ship has been posted (small changes have also been made to the Desaru ship pages of the Muzium Negara exhibition, reflecting final artefact counts and the change in estimated date of wrecking to c.1845). A short report has also been posted on the Tanjung Simpang ship, which dates to the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126); this very signficant site is at the northern tip of Sabah, and has been heavily looted.

4 Jun 03: The Borobudur Ship Expedition is recreating the C8th vessel and plans to sail from Indonesia to West Africa.

4 May 03: A chronology of Asian maritime and trade history has been added. This is a work-in-progress, which started as a personal catalogue to innumerable small snippets and references, and has begun to provide quite an interesting overview, as it draws on all sources. It can never be definitive, but may be useful. Contributions very welcome, especially when linked to primary sources.

15 Mar 03: MaritimeAsia was out of action for approximately ten days 3-13 Mar, and all mail was returned as undeliverable, after the domain was accidentally cancelled by register.com, which apologises. We are now back to normal.

25 Dec 02: Added a page on the magnetic compass and slightly extended that on sounding weights; a page on sheathing and treatment of wooden hulls was recently added to the Maritime Lanka website. All of these may be extended with additional references as and when we find them.

1 Sept 02: The latest article on Sabri Zain's useful and beautifully illustrated Sejarah Melayu site, on the history of the Malay peninsula, asks (regarding Enrique of Melaka, who accompanied Magellan in the early 16th century), 'Was the first man to sail around the world a Malay?' Much of Malaysia's history has a maritime angle, but other particularly relevant pages cover the historic ports of Patani and Aceh, the river forts of Johor, and the US attacks on Kuala Batu ('war on piracy') and the British blockade of Kedah in the 1830's.

16 Jun 02: Thanks to Jean Martin and to the Oriental Ceramic Society of France for an article on the island of Tioman in the South China Sea, used for centuries as a watering and provisioning stop for ships. This is one of sixteen papers on shipwreck ceramics in the Society's latest journal, which can be purchased for €28 including international postage; ordering details are here.

5 May 02: The Bakau wreck, a Chinese ship of the early C15th, is described by Michael Flecker in the latest IJNA ['The Bakau wreck: an early example of Chinese shipping in Southeast Asia', The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (2001) 30.2: 221-230]. The 23m ship was of Chinese construction (hull strake timber of hard pine, Pinus sylvesteris group; iron nails with chu-nam caulking; bulkheads and adjacent frames; wooden stiffeners; absence of keel remains indicating a possible flat bottom, etc). Several dozen coins of the Yongle reign (1403-1424) date the wreck to 1403 or later. Some of the ceramics carried were similar to finds on the Turiang: Sukhothai fish and flower bowls, Vietnamese underglaze flower bowls, large Suphanburi storage jars, and earthenware rice pots. As with the Turiang, Sukhothai ceramics outnumber the pieces from Sisatchanalai, which include early green-glazed ware. Both the Bakau and Turiang ships carried Longquan celadon and Chinese brown ware. The Bakau ship also carried concave lids with lotus bud handles, seen on many other regional sites such as the Longquan wreck; and less-usual Thai fine-paste-ware kendis, similar to finds on the C10th Intan wreck and the C13th Java Sea wreck (these links have new pictures), but not seen on the Turiang site. Other finds included small bronze guns, bronze mirrors and mirror handles, cast iron cooking pots, anvil-type and circular grindstones, a pewter kendi, a Middle-Eastern style ewer, copper alloy tweezers in cargo-size numbers, and other copper alloy objects such as fish hooks, a spearhead, a hanging oil lamp, bowls, spoons, and sounding weights similar to one found on the Longquan.

13 Feb 02: Made minor textual clarifications and additions to all seven of the exhibition's specific-ship pages, and added a photo of the cup-mouthed bottles found on the Xuande wreck. Corrected an error re the Longquan wreck; some of the celadon plates still show spur disc scars, but a much smaller proportion than on the Nanyang site. Link: photos in an Apr01 Forbes article of artefacts from the C10th Intan wreck.

11 Feb 02: Thanks to Dr Barry Floyd for upgraded photos of the Muzium Negara displays on the index page.

18 Dec 01: A sister site Maritime Lanka is at http://cf.hum.uva.nl/galle/ [Ed: subsequently moved to this site] - mostly at present about the port of Galle, where there are stone anchors and Dutch East Indiamen, but the eventual scope is the maritime archaeology and history of Sri Lanka.

22 Nov 01: Thanks to Dr Michael Flecker for pointing out that there have been at least three previous finds of Chinese-built ships of comparable age to the Desaru wreck: the Tek Sing of 1822, and two Chinese wrecks in Sulawesi "of the very late 18th or very early 19th C (IJNA 28.1, pp45-59, 1999)". We've corrected our wording, but still hope that the Desaru site will yield interesting information on ship construction.

16 Nov 01: A major exhibition on the historic shipwrecks around Malaysia opened yesterday at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, and an online version of part has been added to this site, along with two articles on specific topics. The report on the Turiang has been moved, along with all of the site's earlier pages - including the Turiang: what's new page, which will henceforth record only developments relating specifically to that ship. All significant changes and additions to material on the site will in future be noted on this page. If you notice any errors or problems with the site, please notify us: webmaster@maritimeasia.ws.


1. Captain P.J. Rivers. "1421" voyages: fact & fantasy. Perak Academy, Ipoh, Malaysia, 2004. ISBN 983 40556 4 1.

2. Louise Levathes, When China ruled the seas: the treasure fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-33. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994. ISBN 0-671-70158-4.

3. Sten Sjostrand & Sharipah Lok Lok bt Syed Idrus, The Wanli shipwreck and its ceramic cargo. Department of Museums Malaysia, 2007. ISBN 967-9935-74-4. Available from www.mingwrecks.com/publications.html.



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