Ancient Ship Back in Business
    2009-12-25 10:44:34     China Daily      Web Editor: Hu Weiwei
A major underwater museum housing an 800-year-old merchant ship opened to the public in this coastal city in western Guangdong province Thursday.
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Tourists watch the excavation of relics from the 13th-century Chinese ship, Nanhai No 1, at the Maritime Silk Road Museum in Hailing island of Yangjiang, Guangdong province, Thursday. [Photo: China Daily]

A major underwater museum housing an 800-year-old merchant ship opened to the public in this coastal city in western Guangdong province Thursday.

The 30-meter wooden vessel, named Nanhai No 1, or South China Sea No 1, lies in a "crystal palace" made of glass inside the Maritime Silk Road Museum.

"Today marks a new journey for the ancient merchant ship," said Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

It was discovered early in 1987 off Hailing island of Yangjiang.

The debut of the ship will help Chinese scientists' better conduct underwater archaeology and discover China's maritime and porcelain history, Shan said.

The ship has been kept in water, but the environmental conditions, including the temperature, constituents and pressure, remain the same as the waters where it was found, said Shan.

"The ship looks like it did before it was raised from the sea, and we built two underwater sightseeing corridors and a platform in the glass pool," Shan said.

The vessel was moved to the pool after it was salvaged from the sea two years ago.

The Guangdong provincial government invested nearly 200 million yuan ($29 million) for the construction of the 12,200-square-meter museum, which started in 2005 and was completed last month.

It also displayed several hundred precious relics salvaged from the wreck. The exhibits are only a fraction of some 6,000 items, mostly porcelain, found during initial excavations between August and September.

"We hope more visitors can appreciate archaeologists' efforts in the discovery of the ship. The museum will allow more people to know more about rare and traditional Chinese treasures," Shan said.

Also Thursday, archaeologists were busy excavating relics from the ship.

"After the initial excavation, we did not set a timetable for the full discovery of relics in the ship," Shan said.

Early reports said the whole project is expected to take at least 10 more years, as the ship is estimated to be loaded with 50,000 to 80,000 relics.

"But we did not want to excavate all the artifacts in haste. Otherwise, the original appearance of the ship and relics will be destroyed," Shan told China Daily.

"We need to better preserve the ship and improve underwater archaeological study," Shan said.

Archaeologists found more than 4,000 gold, silver and porcelain artifacts, and about 6,000 copper coins while the ship was still on the seabed.

The ship was recognized as one of the oldest and biggest merchant boats sunk in Chinese waters during the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) and might confirm the existence of an ancient maritime trade route linking China and the West.

"The well-preserved vessel has offered more evidence of the existence of the ancient maritime trade road between China and the West," Shan said.

Archaeologists also found wooden parts of the cabin and deck on the merchant vessel during initial excavation.

"They are the only well-preserved cabin and deck from the era of the Song Dynasty," Shan said.

After the Nanhai No 1, authorities have not decided on a timetable for salvaging a similar ancient ship off Nan'ao island of Shantou, Guangdong province, Shan said.

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