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Sunken Treasures reveal secrets of the deep

22 JUNE 2004

The secrets of a massive shipload of ceramics which lay at the bottom of the sea for 500 years are revealed in a new exhibition opening at the National Museum of Australia in August.

Lost for 500 Years...Sunken Treasures of Darussalam traces the ambitious archaeological expedition which excavated the cargo of precious 15th-16th century Asian ceramics.

The artefacts were on board a ship which sank off the coast of Brunei and lay undiscovered in the South China Sea until a French oil company conducted a seabed survey in 1997.

The ship, far larger than its European counterparts, is one of the most significant maritime discoveries in the South China Sea - long dubbed Asia's Mediterranean for its vigorous commercial activity. The exhibition includes 500 beautiful pots, jars and bowls, diversely glazed and decorated with intricate floral and mythical motifs, originating from Thailand, Vietnam and China's Ming Dynasty.

Lost for 500 Years...Sunken Treasures of Darussalam is being opened by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer on Tuesday, 3 August.

'It was an underwater archaeologist's dream to find so many wonderful objects, many still intact, from a single ship,' said curator Dick Richards. 'These objects help to tell a story of vigorous South East Asian sea trade, which began long before Europeans arrived.'

The challenging excavation - using sonar, manned submersibles and remote operated vehicles - is extensively documented. The professional diving team worked during violent storms and with almost no underwater visibility to uncover more than 15,000 artefacts.

'As our own important maritime history unfolds with recent shipwreck discoveries, this excavation - so powerfully brought to life in this exhibition - reveals the extensive trade between our near neighbours,' said National Museum acting director Craddock Morton.

Creative interactives allow visitors to share the underwater adventure by donning a diving helmet, hearing underwater sounds and communication, and watching the archaeological progress on the sea floor. They can even race the clock to reassemble their own broken pot!

Lost for 500 Years...Sunken Treasures of Brunei Darussalam is under the high patronage of the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam. It has been organised by Art Exhibitions Australia in cooperation with the Brunei Museums under the principal sponsorship of BHP Billiton.

Lost for 500 Years...Sunken Treasures of Brunei Darussalam is on show at the National Museum of Australia, Acton Peninsula, Canberra, until 4 October 2004.
Entry is $8 adult, $6 concession, $5 child, $16 family.
Public inquiries: 02 6208 5000
The exhibition later travels to the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

For interviews, images or more information please contact Public Affairs Director Martin Portus on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or m.portus@nma.gov.au