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14th and 18th Century Shipwrecks Just Excavated: Singapore

"When I found it, it was quite encrusted, but there were specks of white and blue peering out from the bottle," Research Officer Michael Ng said as he pulled out the fully intact 14th century (Ming Dynasty) blue-and-white flask.  Completely covered in fine sand, the bottle had been protected for six (6) hundred years from the otherwise encrusting and corroding sea waters.

It is believed to be the only documented example in the world and serves as further proof of robust maritime trade along Southeast Asia's waters between China, India and the Middle East centuries prior to European arrivals.

Furthermore, these recent discoveries were not just of one (1), but two (2) shipwrecks near Pedra Branca, possibly 400 years apart from each other and both predating the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles.

14th century flask

The amazing find (these are the first shipwrecks to be uncovered along Singapore's shores) will probably yield more shipwreck discoveries and excavations (funding permitting) as Pedra Branca* is a well known rocky outcrop in the middle of what looks like open sea that has destroyed many a ship over the centuries.  Singapore's oldest lighthouse, the Horsburgh, built in 1851, continues to warn and guide ships away from it.  

*Pedra Branca means "white rock" in Portuguese, the first Europeans to arrive along our shores via the sea in the 15th century.  A well known outcrop due to the danger it posed, it also has Malay, Chinese and Tamil names which all refer to it as a "white rock" due to the bird droppings that covered it: Pulau Batu Puteh, 白礁, பெட்ரா பிராங்கா.  In fact, Admiral Zheng He 郑和 (1371–1433) advised his navigator that after departing 龙牙门 Dragon's Teeth Gate, a rocky outcrop at the gateway of Keppel Harbour in Singapore, he should steer a course of between 75° and 90° for five watches until his vessel reached 白礁 Baijiao.


Singapore Shipwreck Pedra Branca

Screengrabs are from the video by Straits Times which can be viewed in the link below.   You may be able to see the real stuff in Singapore's museums as early as Dec 2021 if all the cleaning, conserving and cataloguing goes smoothly.

Excavations were carried out from:

14th Century Shipwreck One: 2016-2019

18th Century Shipwreck Two: 2019-2021

Read the full story in The Straits Times

Watch the undersea excavation here by Straits Times Singapore

TRIVIA: Due to its location 54 kilometres east of Singapore's mainland, the sovereignty of Pedra Branca was disputed between Malaysia and Singapore until 2008. On 23 May 2008, the International Court of Justice awarded the island to Singapore.