13th Century Vietnamese maritime artefacts up for sale | Connect Asia

13th Century Vietnamese maritime artefacts up for sale

13th Century Vietnamese maritime artefacts up for sale

Updated 4 February 2013, 16:09 AEDT

The Vietnamese province of Quang Ngai is set to spend almost $US2 million to employ a local firm to salvage cargo from a Yuan Dynasty shipwreck from the 13th century.

Vietnam's Department of Culture Sports and Tourism is reportedly hoping to sell some 40,000 artefacts, estimated to be worth around $US2.4 million.

But conservationists and historians say Vietnam is selling away its rich underwater heritage.

A collaboration with the Bach Dang Battlefield Research Group and the Vietnamese Institute of Archaeology has been working to uncover material such as ships, underwater cities and aircraft in Quang Ninh province.

The Battle of Bach dang, around 1288 is renowned for being one of Vietnam's greatest ever military victories against the invading Mongols from China.

These local groups have also been working with researchers from Australia's Monash and Murdoch universities, who are helping to train Vietnamese students and officials to raise awareness about the country's maritime cultural heritage.

Presenter: Girish Sawlani

Speaker: Professor Mark Staniforth, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, School of Geography and Environmental Science at Monash University


STANIFORTH: Well, I think it's a very sad development. Unfortunately, it's been going on in Vietnam for around 20 to 30 years and it doesn't seem to be stopping, so I think it's a very sad development.
SAWLANI: And can you give us a bit of historical significance about this shipwreck in Quang Ngai?
STANIFORTH: Well, the shipwreck appears to be 13th Century now, that's the estimated date, which is the oldest shipwreck that's ever been located in Vietnam. The previous shipwrecks have all been more recent than that and therefore I think it's a highly significant shipwreck site. It has a certain amount of porcelain primarily cargo, ceramic cargo and that really is what, what they're planning to excavate and sell.
SAWLANI: Now provincial authorities, they are gathering in the artefacts as I mentioned earlier at about 2.4 million US dollars. As an archaeologist yourself, what are they worth to you?
STANIFORTH: Oh, I think they're priceless. I mean I think they're part of the cultural heritage of the country and not just the country of Vietnam, but also the cultural heritage of the countries that that these things came from. And I think they're really valuable in terms of being able to create museums in countries like Vietnam, being able to increase their tourism and things like that, but unfortunately they simply see them as an opportunity to sell the material for a short term gain and unfortunately, most of what happens is that they don't make the gain that they estimate. The estimates are always extremely doubtful.
SAWLANI: Is the Central Government making any moves to preserve Vietnam's underwater heritage?
STANIFORTH: I'm not sure that the Central Government is making any moves to preserve underwater heritage in Vietnam and I think the Institute of Archaeology is very keen, which is a government agency, but I don't think that that necessarily represents the views or the interests of the entire Vietnamese government. And therefore I think one of the things that hopefully will happen over the next few years, is that the effect of the institute's views on this will be felt in government and also the effect of overseas views on the suitability of selling materials from your underwater cultural heritage will start to have an affect on the Vietnamese government and start to change the views and start to change the activity that goes on in Vietnam.
SAWLANI: Would it more effective to deal with provincial governments as opposed to the Central Government?
STANIFORTH: Well, that's one of the things that we are working on. We're working on Quang Ninh Province, which is quite a long way from Quang Ngai. It's up in the north, and we've worked with Quang Ninh Province now for five years. We get on very well with them and I think effectively, we have stopped that kind of activity happening in that particular province.
The last trip that we made in 2012, we went to another province, Nghe An, and I think we've got a good reception there and we expect to go back to Nghe An this year, and hopefully we will be able to work on one province at a time.
Unfortunately, the issue with that is that Vietnam has a very long coastline with a lot of provinces with coastal areas and we simply can't work with every single province in every part of the country, partly for logistical reasons, but also partly we simply can't afford that kind of activity.
And so Quang Ngai is a long way south. It's in an area we've never worked in, never even been to, so really we can't afford to do anything down there without substantially more funding than we've got available to us at the moment.
SAWLANI: Mark Staniforth, we last spoke to you in October, after your previous expedition focusing on the site of the Battle for Bach Dang in the 13th Century and you spoke about how the site had been covered by paddy fields. Has there been any sort of breakthrough on your part?
STANIFORTH: We think so. We did a small excavation during our last trip in November and we found what appears to be timber which may well be from one of the ships, rather than from one of the stake yards that we've known about for sometime. And we're hoping that when we get the results of radio carbon dating and timber analysis, that will indicate whether we've found one of the ships or not. The other thing is that the last trip that we made, we actually did four small projects, so we did a small excavation at Bach Dang, we extended our interests in Quang Ninh Province to work out of a place called Van Dong, where another fleet of Yuan dynasty ships was sunk around the time of the Battle of Bach Dang is 1288. So we went out there and looked at that area. We then did some training for awareness raising about  underwater cultural heritage in Hanoi for three days and then we went down to Nghe An  Province where we looked at material from a shipwreck down there and started to work with that province to help them to preserve that material and to investigate that material.

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