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The Binh Thuan wreck

The Binh Thuan wreck

Bowl from the Binh Thuan wreck, about 1600

A decorative ceramic bowl.

Photo: George Serras.

Where and how it was made

This bowl was made in the Fujian province of China in the early 1600s. It was found along with hundreds of similar ceramics in a wreck off the Vietnamese coast. The bowl's painted design features flowers and a pair of entwined phoenixes. When compared to other pieces in the wreck, archaeologists discovered that although phoenixes appeared on many bowls, no two were the same.

Five ceramic bowls.

 

Left: These ceramics were among thousands with a phoenix design found on the wreck. Courtesy: Christie's Images Ltd.

Where and how it was traded

This bowl was one of thousands on board a junk carrying silk, ceramics and cast-iron pans from China to the Malay Peninsula around 1600. It's likely Dutch traders in Johore, who were restricted from entering Chinese ports, commissioned Chinese merchant I Sin Ho to bring them the junk's precious cargo. Had the ship not sunk at Binh Thuan off the southern coast of Vietnam, the Dutch would have used these wares to barter for spices in South-East Asian markets.

Illustration of a Chinese junk in a storm.

 

Left: This 1810 illustration by Thomas and William Daniell shows a Chinese junk in a storm. Courtesy: The Print Collector.

Where and how it was used

This bowl is an example of Zhangzhou ware: a robust porcelain produced by Chinese potters for export to South-East Asia and Japan, where it often became a treasured heirloom. Some of these ceramics also made their way to Europe, via Dutch traders.

A decorative ceramic vase.

 

 

Right: This jar was traded to the Dutch East Indies about 1700. A Dutch collector acquired the jar in Indonesia about 1900, and took it back to the Netherlands. Courtesy: Het Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics.

How it came to be recovered

In early 2001, Vietnamese fishermen discovered the wreck of an old wooden ship full of Chinese porcelain. For a while they recovered and sold pieces illegally, but the Vietnamese authorities soon moved to protect the wreck which lay off the Binh Thuan Province.

Australian maritime archaeologist Dr Michael Flecker led the excavation of the ship in 2002. Two years later, 900 of the ceramics were sold at auction, raising more than $2 million to fund the care and display of the wreck's treasures in Vietnam.

Broken ceramics at the bottom of the ocean.

 

Left: The wreck at Binh Thuan during salvage operations. Photo: Michael Flecker.