Chinese archaeologists will start later this year to salvage a ship thought to be a Ming Dynasty merchant vessel that sank off the Guangdong coast 400 years ago, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) said Wednesday.
The SACH approved the excavation plan early this year, it said in a statement to Xinhua. The administration hasn't yet announced all details of the salvage plan, but the Guangdong provincial cultural heritage department will organize an excavation team, the statement said.
The 10-meter-long ship was found buried in the silt on the sea floor, about 5.6 nautical miles offshore from Shantou City, Guangdong Province.
About 200 pieces of porcelain were recovered when the ship was found in 2007. The ship could have been carrying some 10,000 pieces of porcelain, most made during the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620). However, the earliest piece found so far dated back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
The ship was probably a Guangdong merchant vessel, since most of the porcelain items found so far were produced by local workshops, said Cui Yong, an archaeologist with the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Relics.
"It is a very interesting finding because, under the rule of Emperor Wanli, China imposed a ban on sea trade," he said. "The excavation of the ship will help us learn more about China's foreign trade at that time."
The wreck was discovered by local fishermen in 2007. Since then, the area has been cordoned off and monitored by radar to prevent the cargo being stolen, according to the border police of Shantou.
"Patrolmen visit the area every day. Since May 2007, we have stopped about 50 suspicious boats and kept about 1,900 ships away," said a police officer.
Guangdong was a major sea trade center in ancient China. In December 2007, archaeologists salvaged an 800-year-old merchant ship loaded with valuable trading goods off the coast of YangjiangCity, Guangdong, about 600 km from Shantou.
That ship has been kept in a glass pool at a local museum, with water duplicating the conditions in which the wreck was found.