China to launch 1st inland underwater archaeology project

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East China's Jiangxi Province will launch an underwater archaeological investigation in Poyang Lake next month, China's first such project in inland waters.


"This time, we will go into China's largest fresh-water lake to study its repository of underwater sites and artifacts," said Fan Changsheng, director of Jiangxi Provincial Institute of Archeology.


Archaeologists will start by identifying submerged indigenous sites, waterlogged ancient battlefields, and shipwrecks at "Laoyemiao" , a mysterious and dangerous area in Poyang Lake, according to Fan.


World-class equipment, including advanced sonar sound machines and sand pumps, will be used for the mission, said Fan.


The development of China's underwater archaeology began in the late 1980s when China start salvaging its ancient shipwrecks. While a new field of exploration, it has seen rapid development in recent years.


"China has previously conducted several maritime archaeological projects in its coastal regions, but this will be the first time it will take place in the country's fresh waters," said Fan.


Along with Laoyemiao, the Anhui sections of the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers have been selected as the second coveted spot for such underwater archaeological studies.


Laoyemiao, a narrow water channel linking Poyang Lake and the Yangtze River, was chosen for its historical and archeological significance.According to Fan, ancient vessels carrying famous Jingdezhen-made porcelain ware had to pass this gateway before heading out to destinations outside China.


In 2007, a merchant ship of Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Nanhai No.1, was excavated from the South China Sea. Experts said the vessel was traveling on the "Maritime Silk Road" to sell fine chinaware, much of which were loaded at Jiangxi, where Jingdezhen is located, to be shipped off to other countries.


"The Poyang Lake has long been an important water route for ancient porcelain exports, and we think many treasures and secrets may be lying below," said Fan.


Furthermore, in the 14th century, Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), defeated Chen Youliang, his rival for the throne, near Poyang Lake, making the water part of the ancient battlefield.


Compared with working on dry land, experts say that underwater archaeology is more challenging, and to be successful, a mission requires advanced equipment and intense preparation.


"In an underwater probe, archaeological divers can face poor visibility, high water pressure and attacks from aquatic animals. The divers also need to complete the mission in a limited amount of time," said Zeng Jin, who was part of the salvage crew of Nanhai No.1.


"Research in fresh water is also different from nautical archaeology.Artifacts may be buried in deeper silts, and visibility may be poorer," added Zeng.


And it may be a tougher task for archaeologists to dive into Laoyemiao, whose treacherous waters and frequent shipwrecks have earned it the title as "China's Bermuda Triangle" .


According to local records, more than 100 vessels have sunk or disappeared in these waters over the past 60 years. Statistics from the aviation station reveal that in 1988, at least ten ships disappeared.


"There isn't a single year that has passed without a shipwreck, and efforts to salvage the wreckage have all failed," said a local villager.


Some experts attribute the strange currents to gusty winds, while others suggest there could be large whirling currents beneath the waters. If true, they could make an underwater investigation even more dangerous.


"We will first coordinate with experts in various fields, including meteorology, geology, and hydrology, to organize an extensive investigation of the water area," said Fan Changsheng.


Fan hoped that this investigation could also find the wrecks of those ships and finally solve the mystery of Laoyemiao.

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