A Shipwreck in Drydock


May/June 2015

Trenches China Nanhai Shipwreck


One of the most spectacular shipwreck projects in Chinese underwater archaeology was the 2007 raising—intact, with the surrounding sediment—of Nanhai Number One, the wreck of a Song Dynasty merchant vessel (see the September/October 2011 feature “Pirates of the Marine Silk Road”). A 3,000-ton steel cage brought the wreck to a custom saltwater tank in a newly built museum on Hailing Island in Guangdong. The museum was completed in 2009, and full-scale excavations began in late 2013. Recently archaeologists have reached the interior of the ship, and have so far found more than 600 pieces of porcelain, 100 gold artifacts, and 5,000 bronze coins, among other items—with countless more to come. Nanhai Number One dates to between A.D. 1127 and 1279, a time when China’s ocean-based trade and exploration flourished, before the fleet was dismantled a few centuries later.