Ancient Arab Shipwreck Yields Secrets of Ninth-Century Trade

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SINGAPORE — For more than a decade, archaeologists and historians have been studying the contents of a ninth-century Arab dhow that was discovered in 1998 off Indonesia’s Belitung Island. The sea-cucumber divers who found the wreck had no idea it eventually would be considered one of the most important maritime discoveries of the late 20th century.

The dhow was carrying a rich cargo — 60,000 ceramic pieces and an array of gold and silver works — and its discovery has confirmed how significant trade was along a maritime silk road between Tang Dynasty China and Abbasid Iraq. It also has revealed how China was mass-producing trade goods even then and customizing them to suit the tastes of clients in West Asia.

“Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds,” at the new, lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum designed by Moshe Safdie, presents items from the Belitung wreck. Curated by the Asian Civilisations Museum here and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the show is expected to travel to museums around the world over the next five to six years....

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