Last year over 4,000 precious cultural relics made of gold, silver, copper, iron and clay were salvaged from the Song Dynasty "Nanahai-1", a merchant shipwreck located in Yangjiang River waters in Guangdong Province. Based on available information from exploration, the entire ship is estimated to have 60,000 to 80,000 historical relics. The value and influence of the ship, after it finally emerges out of water, will not be inferior to Emperor Qinshihuang Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Xi'an, said cultural relics experts.
Around last March, an undersea archeological team carried out meticulous exploration and excavation into the "Nanhai-1" merchant ship. The shipwreck, lying 20 meters beneath the water surface, is now covered by two-meter-thick silt. The ship, 30-meter long and 10-meter wide, is the largest Song vessel ever-found. To their surprise, the millennial shipwreck is well preserved, with the wooden hull as hard as if it were new. Instead of capsizing or leaning, it is sitting upright on the seabed.
According to archaeological experts, the discovery of the "Nanahi-1" is rated as a wonder in the world navigation history. So far, no discovery of such a large millennial vessel has been reported worldwide, not to say well preserved. Besides, the discovery provides a most typical specimen for studies on ancient shipbuilding arts and crafts, navigation technology as well as scientific rules of wooden relics preservation. When the team holed the shipwreck and entered it, they were stupefied by the more than 4,000 treasures they saw: in a cabin of only several square meters. Among these relics, high-quality and fine porcelain made up a majority, which were all produced in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. Archeological professionals noted, a china bowl which boasts a similar age and craft was once sold at a price of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States. Whereas the ship here contains batches of relics, so it is invaluable.
China has since ancient times had the tradition and virtue of leaving fine things to others, and the cultural relics in the shipwreck were exports of the Song Dynasty, the chinaware must have been first-class works, representing the then highest technological level. Therefore, they have extraordinary value.
The "Nanhai-1" merchant ship, by preliminary appraisal, was an international trading ship, sailing along the main channel for overseas trade ---- the ancient marine silk road in the Tang-Song period. Presumably, it left a domestic port for the Middle East. Among the relics, some products were in a distinguishing foreign style, showing great difference from products found at home in the corresponding period. For instance, some flared china bowls were never seen at home, yet they were very much like Arabian bowls. And some china caskets were obviously designed specially for foreign clients. On this basis, archeologists estimated that many of these relics were specially produced in accordance with overseas market demands.
Archeological studies on the "Nanhai-1" ship initially proved that as early as a thousand years ago, "processing according to customer's sample", a form of international business cooperation and trade, had appeared in China.
(People's Daily March 7, 2003)