The use of sea-charts as an aid to practical navigation was in vogue much before the advent of the European colonial traders in the North Indian Ocean is almost an accepted fact. Yet, such sea-charts do not appear to have survived on the Indian, Arab or African shores. Marco Polo, on his return voyage from China to Venice towards the end of 13th century, is reported to have seen the use of sea-charts by Indian seamen.
Until recently, Basra was not considered as a producer of some of the finest Chinese-inspired porcelain. However recent studies suggest that Basra was in fact a centre of some of the finest luxury wares of the time. Being the port where, in the 9th century, imported Tang stoneware and porcelain were first off-loaded from ships, meant that local potters were exposed to new inspiration, which led to experimentation in their own production techniques.
Underwater archaeological sites and wreck sites provide important information on the history of nations and mankind. The Gulf of Siam is one such important site, having been a territorial waterway to and from the Malay Peninsula since the 4th and 5th centuries. Despite reasonably stable weather in the Gulf, conditions could be perilous. The number of shipwrecks to be found here, many of which are still intact owing to the relatively good underwater conditions that enable material objects to be preserved, reflects the risks.
The Omani people’s initial interest in the sea in the third century BC was probably a result of the following: Oman’s location at the cross-roads between South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa; its long shorelines; and its safe natural harbours in Muscat, Sohar and Qalhat, which become successful trading posts for maritime trade from and to East and West.
Much research has been done into life and times of the great Chinese navigator, Zheng He, who extended and promoted China’s official maritime trade during the Ming dynasty. Countries that Zheng He visited include: Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, the Philippines, the south Asian sub-continent, as well as Arabia and Africa. However, the bulk of research efforts has focused on Chinese sources and materials and discuss and review the historic geography, including place names and the routes that Zheng He followed.
The maritime routes of the Silk Road were the main porcelain and Spice Roads, as well as direct avenues of contact between the East and the West. Throughout time, maps and charts have reflected the cultural exchanges taking place between the East and the West, including international trade and religious activities Shifts in knowledge, power and culture resulting from the Silk Routes have been captured in a rang of maps, including the Ptolemy World Map (150 AD), the Islamic World Map (1154 AD), the Catalan Atlas (1375), and the Korean World Map 1402.
While there an overlapping of cultures of East and West via the Silk Routes usually occurred throughout history, the peninsula of Korea, however, restricted itself to mostly ‘absorbing’ cultural and artistic influences from far and wide and few traces of Korean culture have been found in Central Asia. Evidence of this cultural and material appropriation can be found in several tumuli, including buckled belts with a Scythian zoomorphic influence, Roman and Germanic glassware, central-Asian inspired metalwork, Chinese-inspired painting techniques.