Hoi En Shipwreck:

During the 15th century, a trading vessel filled with porcelain vanished off the coast of Vietnam. It was rediscovered in the 1990’s by fisherman. Broken pieces of pottery were showing up in their nets, and soon greedy looters were using nets to trawl, not for fish, but for artifacts. The bits of pottery made their way to Saigon, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, and even New York City. Eventually, the nets weren’t dredging up any new pottery, and since the wreck was too deep to dive to, the looters used steel rakes to try to dislodge any new pieces. This had a devastating effect, and by the time legitimate archeologists and scholars heard rumors about the wreck, they feared much of it had been damaged. They figured out the approximate location of the wreck by tracing the trail of a couple of Japanese art dealers who were caught at an airport with suitcases full of the contraband pottery. An archeological underwater “dig” was started. Images from the first successful camera dive were astounding. There were rows upon rows of porcelain in pristine condition. Recovering them was something else. The complications of recovering artifacts underwater had the teams stumped until they finally came up with a solution of saturating the diver’s tissues with a mixture of gases so that they could stay underwater longer. In the end, the project cost $14 million. The total number of pieces salvaged: 244,000. All unique pieces went to the National History Museum in Hanoi, ten percent of the objects recovered were sent to museums around the world, the salvage team received 40% of all duplicate objects. The rest was auctioned off by Butterfields in San Fransisco. Experts traced a skull found on the ship to Thailand. So is it right that Vietnam got most of the artifacts? And who really owns a 500+ year-old wreck in the bottom of a sea? These are some of the questions unique to the Hoi En Shipwreck, that probably won’t ever be answered.

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Fay, Kim. “Hoi An Hoard, Part One - The Excavation.” Things Asian; Experience Asia Through the Eyes of Travelers; 10/19/00

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