A team of Chinese archaeologists have hauled up more than 900 artefacts from two ancient shipwrecks in the South China Sea, the National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA) of China said on Thursday.
The researchers used deep-sea technologies to investigate the Ming dynasty sites on the northwest continental slope at a depth of 1.5km (0.9 miles) in three phases over the last year.
The archaeologists said they believed the shipwrecks – both merchant vessels, referred to as No. 1 and No. 2 – were from different periods in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
Shipwreck No.1 has yielded hundreds of artefacts ranging from coins to wooden logs, revealing valuable insights about trade during the Ming dynasty. Photo: CCTV

The two sites – 22km apart – lie 150km southeast of Sanya, on the island province of Hainan. They were discovered in October 2022 by the crew of a manned submersible research vessel.

At the No. 1 shipwreck, 890 objects were recovered – including porcelain, pottery and copper coins – out of a total of more than 10,000 items identified at this site, the NCHA told a press conference on Thursday.

The researchers said the vessel’s cargo originated from the porcelain capital of Jingdezhen and was intended for export.

A total of 38 artefacts were recovered from the No. 2 shipwreck, including ebony logs from the Indian Ocean region, porcelain, pottery, shells and antlers.

Scientists says the cargo recovered from the South China Sea shipwrecks has shone a light on marine trade during the Ming dynasty. Photo: CCTV

That vessel had been returning to China when it sank, according to an October 2023 article in the Guangming Daily, written by Song Jianzhong, a researcher with the National Centre for Archaeology.

“The discoveries of two shipwrecks are important evidence of trade and cultural exchanges along the ancient Maritime Silk Road,” NCHA Deputy Director Guan Qiang said.
The two shipwrecks off the coast of Hainan have yielded hundreds of pieces of cultural relics. Photo: CCTV

The two sites were jointly investigated by the National Centre for Archaeology, the Chinese Academy of Science, and a local museum in Hainan using both manned and unmanned submersibles.

The scientists used flexible manipulator arms attached to the submersibles to retrieve the artefacts and collect seabed sediments, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Much of the recovered cargo from the No. 1 shipwreck was porcelain from Jingdezhen. Photo: CCTV

A 3D laser scanner and high-definition cameras were also used to record the distribution of the shipwreck areas.

The NCHA said the discoveries were a milestone in China’s underwater archaeology, from coastal areas to the deep sea.