Can a nation afford its own treasure ?

By Dina Indrasafitri - The Jakarta Post

Middle Eastern traders carrying swords with golden hilts sailed a ship filled with goods such as intricately carved ceramics and glimmering green glass wares from the Eastern Mediterranean. Alas, the ship, along with the hundreds of thousands of trade wares, sank in the waters of the archipelago when making its way to the Kalingga kingdom in Central Java. 

So went one scenario suggested by Adi Agung Tirtamarta, the CEO of one of the private companies involved in the excavation of over 270,000 artifacts from a sunken ship about 90 miles North West from the city of Cirebon, West Java.

Another scenario suggested that Middle Eastern traders had stopped by in India and China to pick up goods before crossing the Molucca strait and met their final fate in the sea, he said. Romantic as the tale seemed, the story of its finding, up to the recent auction, which attracted no bidders in Jakarta, had been less so, for it revealed that Indonesia’s sunken treasures might be too costly to handle alone.

Local fishermen were the first to discover the Cirebon wreck, which came to rest more than 50 meters below sea level. They then sold the position to PT Paradigma Putra Sejahtera-Adi Agung’s company.
What is telling is that they did not report the find to the local authorities.

“Perhaps they thought reporting to companies wouldn’t get them any compensation, so they asked the government what companies work in the excavation of sunken cargo from ship wrecks,” Adi Agung said.

The company proposed to the government its survey and excavation plan, which was issued in February 2004. The recovery process, completed in October 2005, took 18 months.

According to the artifacts’ catalogue, the majority of the ceramics found at the wreck were produced during the Five Dynasties in China’s Zhejiang Province, where an early form of porcelain called the Yue ware were produced.

History enthusiasts protested the government’s plan to auction some of the discovered artifacts.

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