Over 600 artefacts were revealed by Tuesday during the salvage of the Yangtze River Estuary No.2, China’s best-preserved and largest underwater and ancient wooden shipwreck.
Specialists reported that the unveiling of relics shows cultural exchanges between the West and China, and further significant discoveries are expected after the ship is completely excavated.
The ceramics revealed were well formed and believed to be for trade exchanges during the early days when Shanghai, where Yangtze River Estuary No.2 had been found, was reportedly a well-known open port, as the origin of the historic Maritime Silk Road.
As a significant milestone in China’s archaeology, the Yangtze River Estuary No.2 was reportedly a sailing vessel from Tongzhi Emperor’s reign, which belonged to the Qing Dynasty.
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The shipwreck measures approximately 38.5 meters in length and 7.8 meters in width and contains almost 31 cabins. The vessel is “sleeping” in the waters that lie toward the northeast of Hengsha Island, with the hull buried about 5.5 meters below the seabed.
The relics show that there were constant cultural exchanges between China and the West, Liu Zheng, a member of the China Cultural Relics Academy, informed the Global Times. For instance, Liu specified that rare green glaze porcelain was produced in the Chinese porcelain capital of Jingdezhen, East China’s Jiangxi Province, and derived inspiration from the porcelain-making techniques of Europe.
The porcelain items reflect how well China could ‘digest’ Western culture and embraced such cultures about 100 years ago, Liu said.
Liu mentioned that there would be more after the vessel was excavated, particularly some lifestyle items and “food relics.”
Embarking on a sea voyage needs several living goods like tableware and food relics. Once the ship is successfully salvaged, these will be seen.
Unlike the Nanhai No.1 shipwreck from the Song Dynasty found in the South China Sea about 35 years ago, the “younger” Qing Dynasty vessel is an excellent proof of China’s long-developing Maritime Silk Road culture, spanning various periods and still carrying on to today’s age, Liu explained.
On 2 March 2022, the Shanghai municipal government and National Cultural Heritage Administration collaboratively announced the Yangtze River Estuary No. 2 cultural relic protection assignment. As China’s one of the most significant underwater archaeological assignments in China, it has been listed in the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan dedicated to cultural relics protection and scientific and technological innovation.
It adopts the first technology in the world that deploys arc beams to produce non-contact migration of cultural relics to salvage the ancient vessel, per reports.
During the on-site operation at sea, the main vessel of the salvage and relocation project is expected to lay down about 22 massive arc-shaped beams around the ancient boat to form a vast semi-cylindrical caisson.
This will wrap the vessel with sediment and seawater, with a cumulative weight of over 10,000 tons without a leakage.
It’ll lift the water and “embed” it in the central open moon pool of an exclusive salvage engineering vessel. The whole offshore operation is expected to take up to two-three months.
Specialists mentioned that the underwater archaeological activities that took place over the past 30 years in China, encompassing the archaeological excavations of Coral Island 1, Huaguang Reef 1, and other significant shipwrecks, do demonstrate the prosperity of the ancient maritime Silk Road. Besides, it also upholds the history of Chinese ancestors in the South China Sea — a witness of the country’s indisputable sovereignty in the region.
The advanced technology of underwater archaeology is mature, and it can be applied to the whole method and process of work. Zhao Dongsheng, an associate professor of archaeology associated with the school of history at Nanjing University, informed the Global Times.
He further added that establishing an underwater archaeological virtual laboratory, purchasing appropriate equipment, and training more specialists must be the next direction of the country’s rich underwater archaeology.
The Yangtze River Estuary No. 2 is likely to break the waves before the end of 2023 and settle down in the River Huangpu, per Xinhua News Agency.
Archaeologists are expected to carry out follow-up archaeological tasks, and a museum of ancient vessels will also be constructed at the site.
References: Global Times, CGTN