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17/10/2018 - 08:31

Underwater Archeology: The new, potential & difficult field

Although there were only 10 reports, the activities of the Underwater Archeology Subcommittee still attracted attention at The 53th National Archaeological Conference "New discoveries in Archeology" in Hue City.

Visiting new findings on archeology in 2018

Significant discoveries

In the International Cooperation Program for Underwater Archeology in 2018, the group of international experts VMAP, Institute of Archeology and Quang Ninh Museum had investigated the monuments of Dong Choi (Van Don, Quang Ninh). The results showed that there had been traces of human habitation of Ha Long Culture era.

The traces were found to have been widely distributed on Dong Choi mound with high density; there were lots of pottery pieces and many types of stone tools. These findings opened up a great deal of potential research for the group of dwellers having been living here, as well as their exchanging relationship with other populations. This was also a particularly important value of earlier history in Van Don commercial port thousands of years ago.

In Quang Nam province, the relics of Bai Lang were also co-excavated by the Department of Archeology, Hoi An Cultural Heritage Preservation Center, Quang Nam Museum and Chieu Hoa Women's University (Japan). The results of 2017 - 2018 and the two previous excavations (1998, 1999) showed that Bai Lang was a residence of Champa people with relics including daily objects such as pots, bowls, pots, string beads…

In addition, the products which featured the East Sea trade route, such as Islamic glass, Indo-pacific chain beads, Tang pottery ..., proved that Bai Lang was a commercial port on the China - South East Asia - West Asia trading route in the 9th - 10th century.

Of the 10 reports by the Underwater Archeology Sub-Committee, Thua Thien Hue province had a report related to the discovery of artifacts of shipwrecks in Lang Co. The survey was conducted by Thua Thien Hue Historical Museum and the Institute of Archaeology. From the information of a resident in Hai Van village, Lang Co town (Phu Loc district), experts of two institutes had surveyed the area of suspected artifacts in Lang Co lagoon.

Currently, artifacts are inundated to the depth of 0.5 to 0.8 m, 400m2 wide, 1 km from the Lang Co estuary to the southeast, 250 m from National Highway 1A and 1 km from the foot of Hai Van mountain to the northwest. Artifacts found include porcelain, pottery and wood. The porcelain item consists of three Chinese porcelain bowls. The pottery is composed of many pieces of broken cap, with large sections. Wooden furniture consists of two large pieces of wood which can be used to make the two sides of a boat and two wooden pegs.

With results from the artifacts found, experts initially thought this was possibly a remnant of a merchant ship wrecked and buried for days under Lang Co bay. Dates of artifacts were also initially predicted in the 14th-15th century, the ship’s age might be younger than that of the artifacts. According to Phan Canh Anh Vinh (Thua Thien Hue Historical Museum), the area where the ship's wreckage was discovered had a predictable tide schedule which made the exploratory of the archeology to find out the exact location of the ship easier. The results after the exploratory, will be reported to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, to get the permission to excavate the artifacts and the ship for further research.

New and uneasy

With an ecosystems that are full of rivers, oceans, swamps and lakes, Thua Thien Hue is a land that has huge potential for underwater archeology.

According to Assoc. Nguyen Giang Hai, Director of the Institute of Archeology, with the potential of cultural heritage resources under water throughout the country, the Institute established the Center for Underwater Archeology two years ago. At the annual National Archaeological Conference "New discoveries in Archeology", if the number of reports in other subcommittees reaches hundreds, the Sub-Committee on underwater archeology has only about 10 articles. However, it was a great effort of the archaeologists, because this is a new field and doing research is completely uneasy.

Coming to Hue in the framework of the 21st Congress of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, Prof. Ian Lilley (General Secretary of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association) shared that: “To Vietnam, underwater archeology is a very important part because Vietnam has a long coastline and also the intersection between the two great civilizations namely India and China. Certainly, in the past there had been a lot of exchanges in trade as well as culture. Though underwater archeology is important, it is a difficult issue for any country, not only Vietnam. The archeology is difficult but underwater archeology is even more difficult, because few people can see and understand.”

Speaking of the underwater artifacts in Thua Thien Hue, it would not be completed without mentioning the collection of antiquities under the Huong River bed collected by researcher Ho Tan Phan. Nowadays, the researcher is gone away but the significant value of the artifacts he left remains unchanged.

With the potential of local underwater archeologic resources, Dr. Phan Thanh Hai, Director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, expressed his idea of Thua Thien Hue building and developing underwater archeology. However, according to him, the planning for underwater archeology is completely not a simple task, since it requires researches and information to afford that.

Story and photo: DONG VAN

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