In a groundbreaking revelation, details about two profound archaeological finds have come to light – two ancient shipwrecks lying over 1,000 meters deep in the South China Sea. Located approximately 150 kilometers southeast of Sanya in South China’s Hainan Province, these shipwrecks promise a deep dive into China’s rich maritime history.
The discovery, made in October 2022, utilized the capabilities of the submersible named Shenhai Yongshi, or Deep Sea Warrior. It scoured depths of around 1,500 meters below the surface, unveiling these treasures that lay hidden for centuries.
After meticulous research, Chinese archaeological experts successfully mapped the distribution and probable routes of these ships, now named No.1 and No.2 shipwrecks. Song Jianzhong, the lead archaeologist of the project and researcher at the National Centre for Archaeology, announced during a press conference by China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA) that they retrieved 543 artifacts from the No.1 shipwreck and 36 from the No.2 site.
The sheer volume of items from the No.1 shipwreck is astounding. With over 100,000 porcelain pieces, the ship’s contents can be traced back to the reign of the Zhengde Emperor (1506-1521) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In contrast, the No.2 shipwreck mainly held a significant number of processed wood logs. Preliminary findings suggest that this ship was returning to China from an overseas voyage and belongs to the era of the Hongzhi Emperor (1488-1505), also of the Ming Dynasty.
This unprecedented find of two ancient vessels – one inbound and one outbound in the same maritime region – highlights the significance of the ancient Maritime Silk Road. It paints a vivid picture of the booming trade and cultural exchanges of that period. These well-preserved shipwrecks, rich in artifacts with distinct dating, are not just a testament to China’s advanced deep-sea archaeology but are also unparalleled discoveries on a global scale.
In terms of exploration phases, two segments have already been executed in 2023, with a third one slated for March to April 2024.
The conference further revealed findings related to an underwater archaeological survey of another shipwreck from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) near the ancient port city of Zhangzhou on Shengbeiyu Island, Fujian Province. This ship, lying at a depth of 30 meters, is thought to have been a private merchant vessel bound for Southeast Asia. Chen Hao, deputy curator of the Fujian Provincial Institute of Archaeology, elaborated on the ship’s impeccable preservation and the innovative technologies employed by underwater archaeologists to excavate in low-visibility conditions. This serves as further evidence of China’s advancements in underwater excavation techniques.
China’s commitment to uncovering its maritime history is evident in its recent endeavors. Explorations of warship wrecks from the Sino-Japanese War have also been underway. In Weihai Bay, remains of warships like Dingyuan, Jingyuan, and Laiyuan have been found, along with unique artifacts such as gun shells and silver spoons. These underwater sites, ranging from 6 to 10 meters in depth, offer fragmented glimpses into China’s naval past, adding layers to its rich tapestry of history.