Discovering Asia's ceramic development

The value of shipwrecks

Engraving of European ships at seaShipwrecks which remain undisturbed on the seabed for centuries provide vital information about the past. The challenge of archaeology is to understand the past by studying material traces. On land, archaeologists may excavate burial sites, lost monuments or deposited waste. At sea, marine archaeologists may excavate fully loaded shipwrecks. Objects on board are usually assumed to be contemporary products dating from the year of sinking. Objects recovered from such dated assemblages yield important clues about Asia's development in ceramic know-how and maritime trade.

Time capsules

Dating ceramics from production or burial sites often gives conflicting results. Neither stratigraphy nor scientific dating is problem-free. Items included in burials are particularly likely to be some years old by the date of internment. Ceramic cargo found on shipwrecks is however likely to be contemporary. Scientific, stylistic and historical analysis are all relevant for dating. Cross-referencing the results of related shipwrecks can make the resultant puzzles more complex, but ultimately allow dating with greater precision. Seven wrecks are exhibited here.

'As time capsules, each with content deposited at a single moment in time, these are more valid as dating evidence than are decades of scholarly guesswork based on unprovenanced museum collections.'

Asian Ceramic Research Organization

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