Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Shinan Ship

As I mention during my trip down Museum Road, Mokpo is home to the Shinan Ship, a 14th-century Yuan ship discovered in 1976 just north of Mokpo in Shinan. Surprisingly it's one of the things that really puts Mokpo on the map. Well, at least for Nautical Archeology and Asian Maritime Trade and History nerds; they all stopped by for the 30th anniversary in 2006:

From 17-19 November 2006, approximately 30 scholars including underwater and maritime archaeologists, historians, and ceramics researchers presented cutting-edge studies of artifacts recovered from the Shinan shipwreck and of the Asian maritime trade of the 14th century at the National Maritime Museum of Korea in Mokpo, Korea. The discovery of the Shinan Shipwreck in 1976 greatly stimulated the growth of underwater archaeology in Korea, and after 30 years of research on this site Korean researchers felt it was time for an international discussion of the site and their work on it.
But the more interesting aspect of the Shinan ship is its contribution to China's emerging medieval maritime history:
...two early Chinese shipwrecks and their subsequent archaeological excavation cast new light on early Chinese shipbuilding technology. The two ships noted are a Song Dynasty ship found at Hou Zhu, near Quanzhou in Fujian Province dating from about 1277; and a Yuan Dynasty ship found at Shinan, near Mokpo in South Korea, dating from about 1323. Both ships depart significantly from generally accepted theories of ancient Chinese shipbuilding techniques and the finds raise fundamental questions.
Raising fundamental questions is always exciting but most of the background information about the ship is hidden behind register-required academic journals. Luckily I did find this lengthy snippet, posted on China History Board:
Quanzhou wreck

In 1975, workers dredging a canal on Quanzhou Bay (24?1N, 118?9E) in Fujian Province, China, uncovered the remains of what turned out to be a thirteenth-century ship dating from the end of the Southern Song Dynasty. Over the course of the summer, the remains of the vessel were completely excavated and taken to Quanzhou for conservation and study. The remains of the hull, which has a V-shaped bottom, includes the keel and the remains of thirty strakes, fourteen to port and sixteen to starboard. There were steps for two masts, the placement of which forward and amidships suggests the existence of a third mast in the stern. Although the remaining vessel members are only 24 meters in length by 9 meters wide, interpretation of the finds suggests that the ship originally measured 34.6 meters by 9.82 meters, with a loaded draft of 3 meters. The hull is solidly constructed, with two layers of planking below the waterline, the first eleven strakes from the keel and three above, using a combination of clinker and carvel joinery that Australian archaeologist Jeremy Green has described as "complex rabbeted carvel-clinker."

The first pair of strakes out from the keel is joined by a "rabbeted carvel joint" in which the edge between the strakes is rabbeted with simple lap joints. The second and third strakes are joined by a "rabbeted clinker joint" in which a rabbet is cut in the inside lower edge of the third plank, which is fitted against the uncut upper edge of the second. The third, fourth, and fifth strakes are joined by the rabbeted carvel joint, and the fifth and sixth by the rabbeted clinker joint, and so on. This innermost layer of planking is sheathed by a second layer of strakes that are edge-joined to one another. However, as these are laid directly on top of the inner layer, the third, sixth, ninth, and thirteenth strakes are clinker laid over the second, fifth, eighth, and twelfth, respectively. The third layer of planking is carvel laid from the thirteenth to the seventeenth strakes.

Twelve bulkheads divide the ship into thirteen compartments; there are waterways cut into the base of all but the aftermost and foremost bulkheads, which were watertight. The bulkheads were fastened to the inner layer of planking with iron braces and iron nails, the latter being set and covered with t'ung putty as a preservative. Another interesting find is the placement in the keel of seven coins in the pattern of the constellation of Ursa Minor, and a bronze mirror, both of which were thought to bring the vessel good luck. While the underbody of the hull tapered towards the bow, the upper decks fore and aft were probably trapezoidal.

The cargo reveals that the Quanzhou wreck was originally a "spices and pepper ship" or a "spice junk." The cargo included medicinals and 2,300 kilograms of spicewoods including laka-wood, sandalwood, and black pepper from Java, garu-wood from Cambodia, betel nuts from Indonesia, frankincense from central Arabia, ambergris from Somalia, and tortoiseshell. It is not clear from this manifest that the Quanzhou ship actually sailed as far afield as Africa, but it does attest to the importance of the port of Quanzhou (on mainland China opposite Taiwan), whose merchants began trading with Africa and the Middle East in the sixth century. Comparing Quanzhou with the great Mediterranean entrepot, Marco Polo wrote,

The quantity of pepper imported there is so considerable, that what is carried to Alexandria, to satisfy the demand of the western parts of the world, is trifling in comparison, perhaps no more than the hundredth part. It is indeed impossible to convey an idea of the number of merchants and the accumulation of goods in this place, which is held to be one of the largest ports in the world.

The ship has been dated based on evidence provided by the hoard of 504 coins, the latest of which were struck in 1273, about the time the ship is thought to have sunk. Today the reassembled hull is on display at the Quanzhou Museum of Overseas Communication History.

Green, "Song Dynasty Shipwreck at Quanzhou." Keith & Buys, "New Light on Medieval Chinese Seagoing Ship Construction." Li Guo-Qing, "Archaeological Evidence for the Use of `Chu-Nam'on the Thirteenth-Century Quanzhou Ship." Merwin, "Selections from Wen-wu on the Excavation of a Sung Dynasty Seagoing Vessel

Shinan wreck

In 1975, Ch'oe Hyong-gun recovered a number of encrusted ceramic containers from a ship lying in about 20 meters of water off the coast of Shinan, South Korea (in 35?1N, 126?5E). These containers were positively identified as antiquities, and divers began to loot the site before government authorities put it under the auspices of the Cultural Property Preservation Office. Proper archaeological excavation began in 1976 and continued through 1984, culminating with the salvage and conservation of the ship's hull in a special shoreside facility.

The remains of the hull include 445 ship's timbers and 223 planks of Chinese red fir and Chinese red pine, both of which are native to southern China. The ship is similar to the thirteenth-century Quanzhou wreck, though there are differences in the construction details. In both ships, the bottom of the hull is V-shaped, and the hull planking is joined in a variety of ways. The Shinan wreck yielded the keel, fourteen starboard strakes, and six port strakes. The strakes were laid over one another in a rabbeted clinker construction, with the rabbet being cut out of the inner lower part of the plank. Towards the bow, this changes to a rabbeted carvel construction to give the hull a smooth side. Parts of two mast steps survived (fore and a main) and the interior of the hull is divided by seven bulkheads.

Further study of the site revealed that the wreck was of a Chinese vessel en route from China, possibly Ningpo, towards Japan, when it sank in a storm. The cargo consisted of more than 12,000 pieces of Chinese ceramics, including celadon vases, plates and bowls, stoneware, incense burners, and ching p'ai (bluish white) porcelain pieces from the Yuan dynasty. Among other artifacts related to the cargo were numbered 729 metal objects, 45 stone objects, 20,000 individual Chinese copper coins, 1,017 pieces of red sandalwood measuring between 1 and 3 meters in length, and over 500 other objects, including the crew's personal possessions. Many of the finds were still packed in their shipping containers marked with the year, 1323, towards the end of the Yuan dynasty.

Green & Kim, "Shinan and Wando Sites." Kim & Keith, "Fourteenth-Century Cargo Makes Port at Last."
Now the previously mentioned "significant departure" of "generally accepted theories of ancient Chinese shipbuilding techniques" is a hot topic because of the 1421 Theory, a theory that China was the first country to:
...discovered Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, the northern coast of Greenland, and the Northeast Passage and that the knowledge of these discoveries was subsequently lost because the Mandarin bureaucrats of the Imperial court feared the costs of further voyages would ruin the Chinese economy. According to Menzies, when Zhu Di died in 1424, the new Hongxi Emperor forbade further expeditions and to discourage further voyages the Mandarins hid or destroyed the records of previous exploration.
It's a controversial theory and many critics question the evidence and the manner in which it has been presented to the public. One of the main pillars of the theory, the massive Treasure Ships or Treasure Junks that made the intercontinental journeys, has yet to be verified with physical evidence. So, as a PBS Nova special describes, any vessel now connected to China's medieval Asian maritime trade, just like the Shinan, is worth more in information than its recovered cargo.


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