Indonesia's shipwrecks mean riches and headaches; for historians, the wrecks are time capsules

01 Apr 2012 11:31 AM | Anonymous

Indonesia's shipwrecks mean riches and headaches; for historians, the wrecks are time capsules

In this Monday, March 19, 2012 photo, Fred Dobberphul, a scientific diver who involved in the excavation of the 9-10th century Chinese ship that sank off Java island and known as "The Cirebon Wreck", examines artifacts he helped to recover at a government warehouse in Cileungsi, West Java, Indonesia. Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation straddling the equator, remains desperately poor despite its vast oil, coal and gold reserves. Its graveyard of ships from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, one of the biggest in the world with nearly 500 wrecks identified so far, has long been viewed as yet another resource to exploit. AP Photo/Dita Alangkara.

By: Robin McDowell, Associated Press

MENTAWAI ISLANDS (AP).- Mamat Evendi straps on his primitive breathing device undefined a garden hose attached to a compressor on the back of his wooden fishing boat. Pulling down his goggles, he splashes flippers-first into the crystal blue water

A few minutes later he's flashing a "thumbs up," pointing first to a massive, coral-encrusted anchor, then a bronze cannon and finally, peeking up from the sand, the buried deck of a 17th century European ship. Nearby are pieces of blue-and-white ceramics. A tiny perfume bottle. A sword handle. Broken wine flasks, one still sealed with a wooden cork.

The wreck is just 6 meters (20 feet) underwater, one of four pushed into view after a tsunami slammed into the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia just over a year ago. They are among possibly 10,000 vessels littering the ocean floor of what for more than a millennium has been a crossroads for world trade.

For historians, the wrecks are time capsules, a chance to peer directly into a single day, from the habits of the crew and the early arrival of religion to contemporary tastes in ceramics.


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