MARITIME EXPLORATIONS
THE BELITUNG (TANG) SHIPWRECK (9th C.)

Background

The Belitung Shipwreck (also known as the Tang or Batu Hitam Shipwreck) was found by fishermen off the Indonesian Island of Belitung in 1998. The German group, Seabed Explorations, purchased the location from the fishermen and began excavation under license in the latter part of the same year. Flecker directed the second excavation season in 1999. It seems that the Belitung Wreck is the only example of an ancient Arab ship ever found. The extensive hull remains were stitched together. The wreck has been confidently dated to the 9th century through ceramics analysis and carbon dating. Its location in Indonesian waters, and its cargo of Chinese ceramics, provide archaeological evidence for direct trade between the Western Indian Ocean and China in the first millennium, although this is subject to some speculation.

 

Spread

As the wreck site was close to shore, a modified fishing boat was used as a work platform, with recovered artefacts being transferred to conservation and storage facilities on land each day. Hooka with in-water decompression was selected as the diving system for this shallow site, and water dredges were used for excavation.

 

Recovered Cargo

The cargo consisted almost entirely of Chinese Changsha ceramics in a variety of forms. Many bowls were packed in large Dusun-type jars. There were also greenware and whiteware ceramics of high quality, as well as some very early examples of blue-and-white. Intricately worked gold and silver ware formed part of the non-ceramic cargo, perhaps a tribute gift for the rulers of the destination port.

Belitung Wreck Details and Photos

Cargo Disposition

The complete collection, some 60,000 pieces, has been purchased by the Singapore government, largely through private funding. There are tentative plans for building a maritime museum with this cargo as the centre piece.

Publications

1. A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters, Flecker, M., International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 29(2), 2000.

2. A 9th Century AD Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesia: First Evidence for Direct Trade with China, Flecker, M., World Archaeology, Volume 32(3), 2001.

3. Tang Treasures from the Sea: An Arab Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters, Flecker, M., Heritage Asia Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 4, June - August 2005.

4. A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters: Addendum, Flecker, M., International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 37(2), 2008.

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