Sometimes at the end of the 12th century a merchant ship loaded with merchandise sank off the shores of Java. 100,000 ceramic vessels, 200 tons of iron, and smaller amounts of ivory, tin and tin ingots offer a narrow window in a much wider world of global trade and political change. The merchant ship that sank in the Java Sea was a sharp peak of a very long copy, and a new study sheds light on the commercial networks and manufacturing industry hidden behind its cargo ̵
Sailing on ancient trade routes
There is a network of trade routes that crossed the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea by the end of century connecting the Sun China dynasty with distant ports in Japan and Southeast Asia to the east, Indonesia to the South and Middle East and Eastern Afr to the west. Merchant ships carry crops, raw materials such as metals and resins, and produce products like ceramics on these routes. Ceramics today is a common occurrence in shipwrecks in these waters, partly because the material surpasses most other things on the seabed and partly because of the clean volumes that can be packed in the hold of merchant ships from about 800 to 1300 years.
Archaeologists have discovered Chinese ceramics in sites stretching from Japan to the east coast of Africa. Excavations in Southeast China have found several sets of furnaces, each with hundreds of dragon kilns – long tunnels dug in slopes that can shoot up to 30,000 ceramic pieces at a time – grouped in a few square kilometers. All of this production was aimed at exporting ceramic bowls, boxes and other containers to overseas markets. "Most ceramic products in this area rarely recover from home-grown conditions in China and are located almost entirely on the sea trade routes," said Ars Technica, the field museum archaeologist, Lisa Nisolek, co-author of the study.
Chingbay originates from Jingdezhen Jiangxi province: fine dishes with a transparent, light-blue glaze on a smooth white outer paste. But the furnace complexes throughout China were supplying the thriving hammer market. The furnaces in Fujian province, in particular, turned out to be imitation of Qingbai vessels in thousands of lower quality but much larger. Last year a Java Sea Wreck ceramic box label tracks this box to the capital of Fujian province.
Fujian once boasted many complexes of furnaces spread across a wide area, and many of their goods looked quite similar (after all). To find out which furnace complex has delivered the cargo to Java Sea Wreck, the University of Illinois University archaeologist Wenpun Sue and his colleagues should look at the chemical prints of the thin bluish glazes of ancient ceramics. Here comes the X-ray pistol – technically called portable X-ray fluorescence detector – Xu and his colleagues are looking for dragon furnaces near the Dehua complex. Xu et al. 2019
Radiated Gun Archeologists
When the X-rays hit something like a 900-year ceramic bowl, for example, the atoms in the bowl fluoresce or emit energy in the form of photons. Each chemical element tends to emit photons at its own unique frequency so that by counting photons of different frequencies an XRF detector can read the chemical composition of an object. In this case, Sue and his colleagues were interested in the glaze – the thin outer layer – of the Yaba shipwreck and the four furnace complexes in southeast China: Jingdezhen, Dehua, Huajiashan and Minqing.
chemical signature of some ceramics from the furnace complexes they found that each object has its own signature, a combination of the chemical composition of the local clay and the specific recipes that potters use to make their pastes and glazes. Ceramic glazes from Jingdezhen tend to contain more iron and less thorium than others, while Dehua imitations have more zinc and thorium and less iron
Xu and his colleagues have scanned 60 ceramic fragments from the ship and their chemical signatures clearly fall into four separate groups, each of which corresponds to one of the four furnaces. It turns out that the ship designed to become Java Sea Wreck has supplied its farm with not only a selection of genuine qingbai pottery designed for foreign ports but also a wide range of articles of different types and quantities that Nijolek says. To the surprise of archaeologists.
"The finely crafted articles from the Kinsezhen are only a small percentage of the load," she told Ars Technica. "The vast majority of qingbai products come from Fujian Province furnaces, which produce a large number of ceramics for export to markets in Eastern and Southeast Asia and other parts of the world of the Indian Ocean." And this reveals much more complexity in trading networks. of the medieval Pacific region than most archaeologists and historians suspect linking potters far into the interior of southeast China with markets around the Indian Ocean. probably stopped at the port of Fuzhou to take ceramics from Jingdezhen, Minqing and Huajiashan, who could travel by river to the port. It would then head 180 km (111 miles) south along the Chinese coast to the port of Qianzhou to take more products from the Dehua furnace complex. "The results of this study show that a large number of ceramics in the cargo were produced in the Fujian northern furnace, which is closer to Fuzhou's harbor," Nisolek told Ars.
If they are right, that means the medieval trader's master took a conscious decision to add time and distance to the journey to make a wider selection of products on the markets in Indonesia.
From China, archaeologists believe that the ship was busy from the bustling Javanese port of Tuban when he accomplished his destiny. It was not the first or last ship lost in those waters. "China's ceramics dating back to that period were found in the area, and there are reports that many of them have come from sunken ships off the coast," Nisolek told Ars. The crew undoubtedly knew about the risks of an oceanic journey, but could hardly imagine that half a century later, their cargo would be stored in a museum in a city that still does not exist.
This highlights how many archaeologists are still to learn from a shipwreck discovered in the 1990s – his artifacts have been in the Field Museum since 1999. In 2011, Xu, Niziolek and their colleagues launched a major project to track the sources of the items found.
"These projects take a lot of resources and many of them have been joint, so it takes a while to find funding, research and analysis, and publishing the findings," said Nieisolek for Ars. "Working on Java Sea Shipwreck materials shows the value of ongoing in-depth research into an existing collection of museums." 2018. DOI: 10.1016 / j.jas.2018.12 .010 (for DOIs).