Discovering Asia's ceramic development
Fish bones
Fishbones from the Royal Nanhai
Drawing of Rastrelliger mackerel

Many fish bones were recovered from storage jars in the cargo areas of the Royal Nanhai. The same type of bones was found on the Turiang. When similar fish bones were first discovered on shipwrecks in the Bay of Thailand, they were assumed to originate from freshwater fish plentiful in the old kingdom of Sukhothai, on the tenuous basis of a 1283 stele quoting King Ram Kamheng: 'there is plenty of fish in the water…'. Analysis however shows that the bones belong to a salt-water fish which usually lives near river deltas: a mackerel of the Rastrelliger family. These fish were about 17 cm long. The gills were missing, indicating that they had been salted and dried or smoked.

Why Thailand in the 15th century could export preserved saltwater fish to the fish-rich Indonesian archipelago is an interesting question. No marketing material has been recovered.

Ship's timber

All 'South China Sea' ships were built from tropical hardwood. A sample from the Royal Nanhai, cut for Carbon-14 dating and shown in the Kuala Lumpur exhibition, is of Hopea species - common in Southeast Asia, but not known to have been exported to shipbuilders elsewhere. The wood is so dense that no saltwater penetrated its inner core, despite its 550-year stay on the seabed at more than five times atmospheric pressure.

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