The Belitung Shipwreck

©UNESCO / Artifacts recovered from the Belitung Shipwreck

The Belitung Shipwreck, also called the Tang shipwreck or Batu Hitam shipwreck, was found by local fishermen off the Belitung Island, Indonesia, in 1998. The Arabian ship sailed possibly between Oman and China during the 9th Century AD and evidence suggests it travelled on the so-called Maritime Silk Route even when it mainly transported ceramic. The vessel sank on the return journey and according to this affirmation an interesting point about the Belitung shipwreck is its location: it is unclear why the vessel was so far from the route which it was supposed to take. In fact, the ships coming back from China would have sailed through the South China Sea and have passed through southern Vietnam, the Singapore Strait into the Straits of Malacca between Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra. Belitung is in the south-east of the Singapore Strait, far from this expected route.

Wrecks of this age are rare finds and the Beltitung was indeed the only 9th century vessel of that origin found until today. The Belitung has given two important archaeological discoveries: its cargo and its hull. The majority of the recovered cargo (60,000 pieces) consists of ceramics, most of which are Changsha ware. The cargo also represents the biggest single collection of Tang Dynasty artefacts found in one location, and because of that is also called the "Tang Treasure”.

Furthermore the Belitung wreck is the first Arab dhow discovered in Southeast Asian waters. The dhow is a traditional sailing vessel with one or more masts with lateen sails used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region. It is disputed whether this kind of vessel was invented by the Arabic or Indian people.

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Region: Asia and the Pacific

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