Chinese archaeologists have recovered around 10,000 pieces of antique pottery and porcelain in an underwater excavation of a shipwreck believed to date back to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) in the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea.
The findings provide important evidence of an established trade route between China and the rest of the world in the 13th century, according to Zhang Wei, the lead archaeologist for the 55-day excavation in the Xisha Islands that drew to a close on Tuesday.
"What we found from the shipwreck on Huaguang Reef No.1 are pearls of the ancient Silk Road on the sea," said Zhang, "and it is first time we have found such precious antiques in the high seas."
"The fragments serve as a testimony that Chinese people lived and traded around the Xisha Islands during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties," Zhang said.
"They also demonstrate that foreign trade during the Tang and Song dynasties was prosperous and that China was one of the earliest nations to discover other parts of the world," said Zhang.
The wreck, 20 meters long and six meters wide, was stumbled upon by a group of Chinese fishermen in 1996, three meters below the surface near Huaguang Reef.
According to Zhang, also director of the China Underwater Research Center with the China National Museum, looters used explosives to destroy the upper part of the ship in 1996 and the plundering continued for years.
"Apart from the upper part, the lower part of the ship is in good shape and the ship might have a displacement of up to 60 tons," said Zhang.
Wang Yiping, deputy director of the Hainan Provincial Office of Cultural Heritage Administration, believes the ship was made in Fujian during the Southern Song Dynasty and was used to carry locally produced pottery for trading overseas.
"We still lack enough evidence to tell us its destination," said Wang.
(Xinhua News Agency May 10, 2007)