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700,000 pieces of Ming Dynasty Porcelain worth $43 million in shipwreck off Indonesia

May 31, 2012

A diver examines a pile of 16th-century Chinese porcelain submerged 60 meters deep off the coast of Indonesia. The porcelain is to be retrieved — more than 400 years after it was shipwrecked — in a recovery expedition next year. Leuchtenburg via Bloomberg

Plans are underway to retrieve some 700,000 pieces of Ming Dynasty porcelain from a 400-year old shipwreck 150 kilometers off the coast of Indonesia, according to Bloomberg News.  The hoard is worth an estimated $43 million and “Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, chairman and chief executive of the Portugal-based marine-archaeology company Arqueonautas Worldwide SA (QOW), plans to retrieve them next year, pending clearance by the Indonesian government, before they are lost to one of the many threats to ocean treasures: dragnet fishing, offshore oil exploration, pipeline and cable installation and, above all, plunderers.”

A Chinese porcelain bowl, dating from about 1580. Porcelain and gold are among the few materials that can survive centuries in salt water. Leuchtenburg via Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg:

[Sandizell] is one of the instigators of an exhibition at Leuchtenburg, a medieval castle near the eastern German city of Jena. It describes the shipwrecked treasures and the task that lies ahead in retrieving them, an expedition Sandizell estimates will cost 5 million euros ($6.3 million) and require the construction of a floating platform to avoid frequent trips back to land. He hopes the show will help save underwater artifacts.

“We want to draw attention to the crazy speed at which these treasures are vanishing,” he said over Indonesian soup and chicken satay, served in a grand hall of Leuchtenburg castle with views of the vast Thuringian Forest in the distance. “In 10 years it will be too late.”

Two delicate bowls from the same era as the Chinese wreck, one decorated with peonies, the other with a rock garden, are displayed in glass vitrines. About a third of the underwater pieces are intact, said Sandizell, who is 53. Only gold and porcelain can survive centuries in salt water unscathed, he said. The wreck was discovered in 2008, and 38,000 pieces of porcelain were recovered during an initial operation in 2010.

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