2 historic wrecks and their items found in Singapore’s territorial waters

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SINGAPORE: Two historic wrecks and their artifacts – including Chinese ceramics dating back to the 14th century – have been discovered in Singapore’s territorial waters around Pedra Branca Island, located in the far east of Singapore.

In 2015, several ceramic plates were accidentally discovered by commercial divers involved in a maritime operation, which led to the discovery of the first historic wreck about 100m northwest of Pedra Branca.

A year later, the National Heritage Board (NHB) commissioned the Archeology Unit of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) to survey and survey the site, and to conduct excavations to recover the wrecks. and the objects of the wreckage.

These excavations, which continued until 2019, led to the discovery of a second historic wreck about 300 m east of Pedra Branca. Excavations to recover the artifacts from the second shipwreck were carried out from 2019 until mid-2021.

RECOVERED ARTEFACTS

The two shipwrecks date from different periods, according to ISEAS findings.

The first wreck contained Chinese ceramics and could date back to the 14th century, a time when Singapore was known as Temasek, according to research.

Small and thin blue and white dish with a lobed edge of the first shipwreck. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Some of the key finds include Longquan dishes and bowls and a jarlet. Fragments of blue and white porcelain bowls with lotus and peony designs from the Yuan Dynasty were also found in the wreckage.

This ship was carrying more of this blue and white porcelain than “any other documented wreck in the world,” said Dr Michael Flecker, visiting researcher and project director for maritime archeology projects at ISEAS.

“Many of the pieces are rare, and one is considered unique,” ​​he said.

Diver with longquan items

A diver holding a Longquan dish that was recovered from a rock crevice. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

ISEAS research also noted that direct parallels can be drawn between the findings of the first shipwreck and those from the 2015 archaeological digs at Empress Place and past excavations at Fort Canning Park.

The second shipwreck, according to ISEAS research, is likely the Shah Munchah, a merchant ship that sank while returning from China to India in 1796.

Artefacts from the second shipwreck

A range of non-ceramic artifacts recovered from the second shipwreck. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Artifacts recovered from this shipwreck include a range of Chinese ceramic and non-ceramic objects, such as copper alloy, glass agate, as well as the ship’s four anchors and nine cannons. The guns were generally mounted on merchant ships employed by the East India Company in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and used primarily for defensive and signaling purposes.

Guanyin head figurine

A Guanyin head figurine was recovered from the second sinking. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Among the main non-ceramic finds in the second shipwreck was a shard of a jar depicting a dragon motif; a terracotta duck; figurines of the head of Guanyin, the happy Buddha and a boy of good fortune; figurines of a dog and a mythical sea creature Makara; a figurine of a Chinese couple holding fans on a bisque plinth; and a Qingbai figurine of a horse with a rider on the side.

Good fortune boy and dog figurine

Figures of a boy of good fortune (left) and a dog were recovered from the second sinking. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

“If the ship had survived 23 more years it would almost certainly have called in the restored port of Singapore. Its incredibly diverse cargo provides excellent insight into the type of goods that would have been traded and bought by the new inhabitants of this nascent city, ”said Dr Flecker.

Qingbai figurine of a horse with a side rider

Qingbai figurine of a horse with a side rider. The headgear suggests a scholar. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

NEXT STEPS: CONSERVATION AND HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

After the salt is removed through the desalination process, the artifacts should be meticulously cleaned, preserved and cataloged. Extensive research and documentation will also need to be carried out.

Once curation, research and documentation are complete, NHB will endeavor to exhibit the artefacts in its museums from the end of 2021.

Reports and archaeological research could also be published by ISEAS. The institute could also organize lectures for members of the public.

Blue and White Ginger Jar Lid

A blue and white ginger jar lid was recovered from the second shipwreck. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr. Yeo Kirk Siang, NHB’s director of heritage research and assessment, told CNA the finds are “important” in unraveling Singapore’s history.

“What is significant is that it reveals part of our history before 1819. This part is still little known. With each discovery, it enriches our understanding. Singapore’s history is clearly linked to our maritime trade – in the past and even today, ”he said.

Sorting of wreck finds

A diver sorts the objects recovered from the wrecks. (Photo: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

“Understanding our maritime history helps us understand Singapore’s relationships, our context and place in the world, our location, why it matters, what is the reason for our existence and what is the reason for our success.

“If we can understand our past, it gives us a more grounded understanding of the world we live in today,” he added.


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