Passage 1(The New York Times 10th, May, 2010)
Ancient Arab Shipwreck Yields Secrets of Ninth-Century Trade
For more than a decade, archaeologists and historians have been studying the contents of a ninth-century Arab dhow that was discovered in 1998 off Indonesia’s Belitung Island. The sea-cucumber divers who found the wreck had no idea it eventually would be considered one of the most important maritime discoveries of the late 20th century.
The dhow was carrying a rich cargo — 60,000 ceramic pieces and an array of gold and silver works — and its discovery has confirmed how significant trade was along a maritime silk road between Tang Dynasty China and Abbasid Iraq. It also has revealed how China was mass-producing trade goods even then and customizing them to suit the tastes of clients in West Asia.
"Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds,” at the new, lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum designed by Moshe Safdie, presents items from the Belitung wreck. Curated by the Asian Civilisations Museum here and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the show is expected to travel to museums around the world over the next five to six years.
"This exhibition tells us a story about an extraordinary moment in globalization,” said Julian Raby, director of the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “It brings to life the tale of Sinbad sailing to China to make his fortune. It shows us that the world in the ninth century was not as fragmented as we assumed. There were two great export powers: the Tang in the east and the Abbasid based in Baghdad.”
Until the Belitung find, historians had thought that Tang China traded primarily through the land routes of Central Asia, mainly on the Silk Road. Ancient records told of Persian fleets sailing the Southeast Asian seas but no wrecks had been found, until the Belitung dhow. Its cargo confirmed that a huge volume of trade was taking place along a maritime route, said Heidi Tan, a curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum and a co-curator of the exhibition.
Mr. Raby said: “The size of the find gives us a sense of two things: a sense of China as a country already producing things on an industrialized scale and also a China that is no longer producing ceramics to bury.” He was referring to the production of burial pottery like camels and horses, which was banned in the late eighth century. “Instead, kilns looked for other markets and they started producing tableware and they built an export market.”