In a striking blend of history and modern preservation efforts, archaeologists are set to undertake a delicate desalination process for the Nanhai No.1, a notable Song Dynasty shipwreck housed at the Maritime Silk Road Museum of Guangdong. As reported by the Global Times, this work represents a pivotal shift from excavation to a multifaceted approach focused on the ship’s long-term preservation and study.
The underwater treasure, which lay undisturbed off the coast of Southern China for centuries, was brought to the surface and into the spotlight by Chinese archaeological teams. This feat marked the beginning of a painstaking process to unravel its secrets while ensuring its endurance for future generations.
Since 2013, the excavation of the Nanhai No.1 has been a focal point of archaeological efforts. Officially concluded in November 2023, this phase involved extensive silt and artifact removal from within the ship’s hull, meticulously exposing its ancient structure. Following the excavation, the ship has been residing at the museum, with plans firmly set for its long-term preservation.
The upcoming phase of work is multifaceted: it includes the drafting of detailed maps of the ship’s structure and the crucial desalination process. Ye Daoyang, deputy director of the museum’s Underwater Archaeology and Technology Department, conveyed the challenges associated with the conservation of wooden shipwrecks. As the ship has spent centuries immersed in the sea, it is imperative to remove various compounds, such as sulfur-iron and soluble salts, that have accumulated over time. Desalination, along with careful dehydration and reshaping, is essential to prevent deterioration and ensure that the Nanhai No.1 remains well-preserved for years to come.
In an operation that underscores the ship’s significance and the extent of the Silk Road’s reach, archaeologists have unearthed over 180,000 artifacts from the ship’s hold since 2013. These relics, ranging from ceramics representative of the period’s kiln sites to precious metals, human remains, and even remnants of marine and terrestrial life, weave a rich tapestry of the ship’s history and its cargo. Notably, the substantial volume of iron concretions recovered from the site weighed in at over 130 tons, as per CCTV’s reports.
The extensive array of unearthed items sheds light on the flourishing international maritime trade of the era and contributes significantly to our understanding of the Maritime Silk Road’s legacy. The archaeological project centered around the Nanhai No.1 is not just a milestone in underwater archaeology in China but also sets a precedent for the global community in protecting and managing submerged cultural heritage.
As the museum prepares to lift the caissons that have encased the ship’s hull, visitors will soon be afforded a clearer view of the ancient vessel’s true form. The ship’s hold, now devoid of artifacts, presents an evocative void that once carried goods across bustling sea routes.
This vessel’s story, which has captivated audiences and experts alike, offers an authentic look into the dynamic and interconnected world of the 13th century. It’s a story that the Maritime Silk Road Museum of Guangdong is eager to share with the world, not just as a chronicle of the past but as a beacon of cultural preservation for the future.