In 1998, Indonesian fishermen diving for sea cucumbers discovered a shipwreck off Belitung Island in the Java Sea. The ship was a Middle Eastern vessel constructed from planks sewn together with rope — and its remarkable cargo originally included around 70,000 ceramics produced in China, as well as luxurious objects of gold and silver. Whether the vessel sank because of a storm or other factors as it traversed the heart of the global trading network remains unknown. Bound for present-day Iran and Iraq, it is the earliest ship found in Southeast Asia thus far and provides proof of active maritime trade in the ninth century among China, Southeast Asia, and West Asia.
In spite of its historical significance, the Tang Shipwreck's destiny has not been smooth sailing. After being salvaged from Indonesian waters, the ship and its cargo were purchased by Singapore, and soon, controversies emerged around its provenance.
In this episode, Dr Natali Pearson gets on the other side of the mic and chats with Professor Michele Ford about the Tang Shipwreck, how its underwater treasures were salvaged from looting in Indonesia, and the controversies it stirred in the world of maritime cultural heritage.
About Dr Natali Pearson:
Natali is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney, where she is affiliated with the School of Literature, Art and Media. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia. Natali is co-editor of Perspectives on the Past at New Mandala and a regular contributor to The Conversation. Natali has completed a PhD in Museum and Heritage Studies(2019, USYD) and is currently writing a book on underwater cultural heritage in Indonesia.
You can follow Natali on Twitter @sea_greeny.