Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop covers an exhibition in Singapore of shipwreck that revealed he extent of seaborne trade with China as early as the Ninth Century. She spoke with Julian Raby of the Smithsonian that had a hand in the exhibit:
“There were two great export powers: the Tang in the east and the Abbasid based in Baghdad.”
Until the Belitung find, historians had thought that Tang China traded primarily through the land routes of Central Asia, mainly on the Silk Road. Ancient records told of Persian fleets sailing the Southeast Asian seas but no wrecks had been found, until the Belitung dhow. Its cargo confirmed that a huge volume of trade was taking place along a maritime route, said Heidi Tan, a curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum and a co-curator of the exhibition.
Mr. Raby said: “The size of the find gives us a sense of two things: a sense of China as a country already producing things on an industrialized scale and also a China that is no longer producing ceramics to bury.”
Ancient Arab Shipwreck Yields Secrets of Ninth Century Trade (IHT/New York Times)