(May -- July, 2012)
The underwater archaeological work of the sunken vessel Xiaobaijiao-I
Date: 2012-07-03Source: english.ningbo.gov.cnPage views: Font-Size: [ large medium small ]Color:

IAbout the sunken Qing vessel

Xiaobaijiao-1 is an ancient vessel which sank off in the waters off the Yushan Islands, southeast of Xiangshan County in east China's Zhejiang Province. It is the fifth ship discovered in Ningbo. The ship "Xiaobaijiao 1" was found in a general survey of coastal underwater cultural relics launched by Archaeological Institute and Underwater Archaeology Research Center of China National Museum in 2008, and another major survey was followed up in 2009.

The latest survey shows that Xiaobaijiao-1 is an ancient merchant wooden vessel which sank during the reign of Qing Emperor Daoguang (1821-1850). The wreck is currently buried in mud and shells in the seabed, with the minimum water depth of 20 to 24 meters, and the maximum water depth of 18 to 22 meters. The vessel measures 20.35 meters long and 7.85 meters wide, taking up an area of 23 meters to 11.2 meters. It has lost its hull and the upper side which rose above the seabed due to water erosion, but the ship body including the keel, ribs, bulkhead plate, and the bottom shell still remained intact. Experts believe the ship is very likely to be restored.

The first stage research reveals Xiaobaijiao-1 is a medium-sized oceangoing merchant vessel loaded with Meiyuan stones produced in Ningbo, blue and white porcelain wares, and other goods. Archaeologists have found 489 objects in the wreck. Except for a small amount of daily utensils and ship parts, most of the recovered objects are its cargo including wares and containers made of porcelain, pottery, bronze, tin, stone, and wood. The porcelain wares are mainly bowls, sacrificial containers, plates, cups, lids, and tanks. Most of them were carved with the seal scripts of "Made in Emperor Daoguang's reign" on the bottom, while a small number of them were carved with words "Made in Emperor Jiaqing's reign". The pottery wares include tanks, bronze pots and bricks. Meanwhile, the archeologists discovered copper coins separately issued during the reigns of emperors Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Daoguang in Qing Dynasty. Along with the copper coins are Japanese, Vietnamese, and Spanish coins, as well as some tin boxes. Most of the recovered antiques are well preserved and painted with delicate patterns, which make them valuable for future research and demonstration.

II. The underwater excavation

Last April, the Underwater Archaeology Center of China and Ningbo Institute of Cultural Relics kicked off the excavation of Xiaobaijiao-1 with the approval of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Supported by China National Museum of Underwater Archaeological Research Center, the project recruited team members from Beijing, Anhui, Jiangxi, Fujian, Hainan, Zhejiang provinces. The archaeological team consists of 35 members and six of them are local underwater archaeologists. It thus became the first officially approved underwater archaeological excavation project in Zhejiang Province.

According to the plan, the excavation of Xiaobaijiao-1 shall be carried out in 2012 and 2013. The Underwater Archeological Team expects to finish the salvage this year and begin the hull excavation in 2013. After the excavation, the archeologists plan to apply further protection and restoration to the vessel and display it in the national cultural heritage base of in Ningbo.

Given the water condition, poor visibility, and shipping transportation near the site, the preparation work including staff assembling and building working platform started on May 11. The underwater excavation officially began on June 4. Until June 22, members of the underwater archaeological team have checked the ship wreck for 220 times, and spent more than 10,500 minutes in the sea. To ensure the quality, many new technologies have been used in this year's evacuation, such as surface and underwater monitoring systems, underwater cameras, and underwater wireless communications. The archeologists cleaned up the mud over the southern and central part of the vessel, which covers an area about 140 square meters, and retrieved 34 pieces of historical relics, including 24 blue and white porcelain wares, four colorful bowls, two pots, a copper coin issued in Qing Dynasty, and a glazed pot, a teapot, and a copper ship part. Meanwhile, they collected the test samples of the deposited sediment and water near the wreck, which will be analyzed in collaborate efforts with the Marine Science and Engineering Departments of Zhejiang University. In addition, the underwater archaeological work used the underwater monitor command system, with a short baseline applied in the practice of underwater archeology, which is the first of its kind nationwide. It is expected that the underwater archaeological excavation work in 2012 will come to the end in early this July.

Located at the crossroad of the north-south shipping routein China, Ningbo is regarded as one of the starting places of the legendary "Silk Road on the Sea" and the ending of the Grand Canal in ancient time. In 1998, the former Museum of Chinese History set up China's first underwater archaeological workstation in Ningbo, namely the Ningbo workstation of Museum of Chinese History. With the support of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum of China, and Zhejiang Provincial Bureau of Cultural Relics, the workstation made rapid progress in its organization, personnel, and capability, and gradually formed its own distinctive strengths and models. It has participated in many domestic and international underwater archaeological heritage protection programs and has made notable contributions to the development of the local underwater archaeology. Currently, the discovery and excavation of the Xiaobaijiao-1 is not only a challenge for the workstation, but also a further evidence of Ningbo’s position as an important trading port for the ancient " Silk Road on the Sea".

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