A 'Five Dynasty' treasure found in the Java Sea



The amazing saga story of the
"Cirebon Project"
Five Dynasty cargo lost and found in the Java Sea

Compiled by Pascal Kainic

Until the 8th century A.D., Chinese water-borne technology was concentrated in river and eventually canal craft. However, various Arab, Persian and Singhalese merchants came to southern China in the 5th through 8th centuries to trade in medium sized (about 500 ton) ocean-going ships.

As early as the 6th century, Chinese were building some river and canal ships of up to five decks, but for the 5th through 7th centuries, more is read about in surviving documents of ocean shipping in foreign hulls.

Needham quotes a passage from Thang Yu Lin (Miscellanea of the Thang Dynasty), compiled in the Sung (12th century) from Thang documents by Wang Tang, which refers to the 8th century A. D.: In the Ta-Li and Chen-Yuan reign-periods (766 to 779 and 785 to 804) there were the (large) ships of the Yu Ta-Niang. The crews of these ships lived on board; they were born, married and died there.

The ships had, as it were, lanes (between the dwellings), and even gardens (on board). Each one had several hundred sailors. South to Chiangsi and north to Huainan they made one journey in each direction every year, with great profit..... The sea-going junks (hai-po) are foreign ships. Every year they come to Canton and An-i. Those from Ceylon are the largest, the companion -ways alone being several tens of feet high.

Everywhere the various kinds of merchandise are stacked up. Whenever these ships arrive, crowds come forth into the streets, and the whole city is full of noise. There is a foreign Headman (Fan-Chhang) in charge.....When these ships go to sea, they take with them white (homing) pigeons, so that in case of shipwreck the birds can return with messages.

This source thus speaks of very large Chinese river and canal boats (nearly 700 tons) but of foreign ships controlling the ocean-going trade in the 8th century. Beginning in the 8th century, it became the practice to carry large cargoes of grain from the south to Hopei, the northern province menaced by Chhi-tan and Koreans. This period was a high point of maritime intercourse among China, Japan and Korea.

From the 9th to the 12th century, large Chinese sea-going ships were apparently developed. The first Sung emperor often visited shipyards, which produced both river and sea-going vessels. In 1124 two very large ships were built for the embassy to Korea.

There is a relief carving on the Bayon temple built by Jayavarman VII in Angkor Thom in Cambodia cited in Needham. Dating from circa 1185, it pictures a Chinese junk with two masts, Chinese matting sails, and stern-post rudder. A Nan Sung scholar, Mo Chi of the Imperial University, is reported as sailing far to the north in Chhi Tung Yeh Yu.

In 1161, the main fleet of the Sung navy fought a larger Jin Empire fleet off the Shandong Peninsula and won. Thus, the Southern Sung of the 12th century gained complete control of the East China Sea. There were four decades of maritime strength for the Sung (until the first decade of the 13th century), when the Sung navy declined and the Mongols started building a navy to help conquer the Sung.

In 1279, the Mongol Khubilai Khan had conquered the Sung capital and then his quickly created fleet chased a large Sung junk with the renegade Sung court and the last Sung prince, who leaped into the water and drowned.


Indonesian Scandal or more complicated story...?!

Q - What is happening in the trial of the diver in Indonesia ?

Jean-Paul Blancan, a professional diver from France, was, along with a German diver, part of an international archaeological research expedition based off Cirebon (northern Java) and was working on a Chinese wreck from the 9th century.

Mr. Blancan and his colleague have been incarcerated since March 8. He is currently in a prison hospital south of Jakarta.

The Indonesian company which employed Mr. Blancan had all the necessary permits to carry out underwater archaeological searches.

Immediately on being informed of their incarceration, our embassy in Jakarta contacted the Indonesian authorities to obtain their release. However, after 20 days in detention the public prosecutor, acting at the request of the local police authorities (Polri), extended the custody of the 2 men for a further 40 days.

The ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, Monday, to receive our very strong protests at the arbitrary and unjust detention of our compatriot. We demand that his situation be clarified as quickly as possible and that he be released immediately, likewise for his German colleague.

Mr. Blancan has been seen four times by representatives of our embassy, including the ambassador on March 30 (2006).

In this case, there are many issues which will stay unknown from the public. The main actors of this "drama" only know why all this happened... They are now back at sea, working on other salvage projects in Indonesia...! 

@ Treasure off Java
      @ The whole saga story
                             @ Some of the artifacts                         
@ Treasure from shipwreck awaits auctioning (5 May 2010) - Four years later

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