Indiana Jones

A history of discovering seabed treasures

By Anchalee Kongrut - Bangkok Post

Underwater archaeologist Erbprem Vatcharangkul takes pride in recovering ancient items in the sea to make sense of it all and better understand the past.

What is your idea of a romantic and adventurous career ?

Answers tend to vary - an explorer, a professional extreme sports athlete, a treasure hunter, or a character in any Hollywood action film such as Indiana Jones.

One career that might fit the notion of being romantically adventurous could be that of Erbprem Vatcharangkul, 55, and one of few underwater archaeologists in Thailand.

The position of Chief of Underwater Archaeology Division, Fine Arts Department (FAD), Cultural Ministry, brings to mind footage that is commonly found in National Geographic features.

Almost every week, Erbprem jumps on to a boat and goes for a dive with the hope of recovering cargo items or any historical evidence from wreck sites, which are mostly remains of ancient commercial ships from the Ayutthaya period some 600 years ago.

Erbprem said he feels like a detective when approaching these mysterious ancient vessels.

"It is quiet and very, very cold under the sea. When you approach a [wreck] site, everything is blurred and you cannot distinguish A from B. Eventually, the images become slightly clearer, but you still have to touch the subject with your hands, taking care you don't destroy it. Sometimes, you don't even know what you've found once you're back in the boat," said Erbprem, describing his experience under the water.

The richest archaeological site his team found was Bang Rachai - an ancient vessel dating back almost 400 years, which cruised along commercial port towns within the Gulf of Thailand, loading and delivering goods.