China to excavate cabins on shipwreck Nanhai 1

From Xinhua News Agency

Chinese archaeologists have won permission to start an "excavation" into the cabins of the 800-year-old shipwrecked merchant vessel Nanhai No. 1, the local government said Sunday.

The municipal government of Yangjiang, Guangdong Province, where the Nanhai No.1 boat has been preserved since it was hoisted from a depth of 30 meters below the South China Sea at the end of 2007, won permission from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in May for the "excavation", Feng Shaowen, director with the municipal publicity bureau, told Xinhua.

The 30-meter-long vessel ship has been soaked in a sealed pool in the "Crystal Palace" at the Marine Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang.

The glass pool - 64 meters long, 40 meters wide, 23 meters high and about 12 meters in depth - was filled with sea water and silt to replicate the water temperature, pressure and other environmental conditions of the seabed where the vessel had lain for centuries.

The details of the excavation have not been released so far but it could last three to five years.

Construction of the Marine Silk Road Museum began in early 2006, costing 170 million yuan ( 24.9 million U.S. dollars). Discovered in mid 1987 off the coast near Yangjiang, Nanhai No.1 was recognized as one of the oldest and biggest merchant boats sunk in Chinese waters.

Archaeologists have already recovered more than 4,000 artifacts including gold, silver and porcelain, as well as about 6,000 copper coins from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) boat.

Among the 1,000 delicate porcelain wares , many were made by handicraftsmen to feature foreign porcelain patterns and styles, said Feng. The well-preserved vessel might confirm the existence of an ancient maritime trade route linking China and the West.

As early as 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese traders began taking china, silk and cloth textiles and other commodities to foreign countries along the trading route. It started from ports at today's Guangdong and Fujian provinces to countries in southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.

The 'Marine Silk Road', like the ancient Silk Road that connected China with south, west and central Asia and Europe, was also a bridge for connecting Eastern and Western cultures, but evidence for the existence of the route is rare, said Huang Zongwei, professor with the Guangdong-based Sun Yat-Sen University.

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