Vietnam maritime archaeology project – The Cu Lao Cham shipwreck

By the end of the third week our surveys finally hit a breakthrough. While most of the artefacts so far were (likely) individual wash-ups or other objects that did not necessarily indicate the presence of a site, the objects found at our newest location are most likely part of a shipwreck and will therefore be the main focus of the rest of our project. This could be exciting news as this shipwreck was not documented anywhere and was therefore a surprise (yet expected) find.

This new location near Bai Lang was the place where we’d expect most of our finds and was one of our main locations in the first week. However, due to the touristic value of this beach and the accompanying presence of many speedboats, it was deemed too dangerous a location to dive for some of the more inexperienced divers and we were therefore forced to move to other locations around the island. By the end of week 3 our divers were deemed experienced enough to move to this location and this proved to be a worthwhile decision when on one of the first days at this site we found a number of large clusters of ceramic artefacts.

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These ceramic artefacts are mainly grouped up in a small area (approximately 20×30 square meter) as opposed to being spread out along the entire coast which instantly made us suspicious of a shipwreck. When, after further surveying, a large number of these ceramic artefacts seemed to date back to the same period and were suspiciously similar to each-other we were almost certain that this was the location of a shipwreck that was worthy of further investigation.

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Based on the ceramic finds at the site this shipwreck likely dates back to approximately the 16th century and was probably importing ceramics from the mainland of Vietnam (or possibly even a different country) to the Cham Islands when it sunk, either because of a storm or because of other reasons.

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However, due to the fact that almost nothing is known about this shipwreck, further investigation is required. This started on Friday with the photographing and GPS-mapping of some of the more interesting clusters of ceramic artefacts, as well as surveying the area for signs of the actual ship. These surveys were carried out by both snorkelling as well as scuba diving due to the shallow nature of the site. However, due to the presence of large amounts of coral which would snag our baselines and measuring tapes it was decided that we would do a free-swim around the area as opposed to doing swim line searches.

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The surveying of this area on Friday sets us up for properly grid based archaeological research of the artefacts in week 4 which should give us some more insight into how much earthenware remains in the area and increase our knowledge on what sort of shipwreck we actually encountered.

As always, greetings from Hoi-An,


Over Maritiem Programma

Het Maritiem Programma van de Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed houdt zich bezig met het onderzoek naar scheepswrakken, bruggen, havens en andere maritieme landschappen. Het doel is om kennis, onderzoek, beleid, samenwerking en educatie op het gebied van maritiem erfgoed in Nederland een stevige basis te geven. Het programma loopt van 2012 tot en met 2015.

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