Shipwrecks in the Java Sea: Ancient Ships and Modern Treasure Hunters

Guest lecture by Professor John Miksic from the National University of Singapore

Monday, December 6, 2010
3:15 - 4:15 pm Room U3 Snorresgade 17-19

The Java Sea has been a crossroads of sea trade for over 2,000 years. The maritime silk road is however much less well-known than the overland route linking China with western Asia and Europe. Recent discoveries have begun to provide a glimpse of the vast potential of underwater research in this area. Unfortunately, the shipwrecks have become better known for their commercial potential in the modern sense, rather than for the information they can provide regarding ancient commerce. The prospect of selling cargoes of ancient Chinese porcelain for millions of dollars/Euros has resulted in a new form of gold rush. Indonesia's laws now treat underwater archaeological sites as mineral resources rather than cultural heritage assets, and rights to exploit them are sold rather than reserved for archaeologists.

Some shipwrecks have been studied by archaeologists, though scholars find it difficult to obtain access to the ships and their cargoes. The little data which does exist shows that many of our assumptions about early seaborne trade between the South China Sea and Indian Ocean are wrong. One can only imagine what new discoveries might emerge if more research is permitted. The alternative possibility, that this potential information about the history of maritime trade will be forever lost because of momentary greed, is terrible to contemplate.

Celebrating 50 years of Asian Studies at Copenhagen University