Since April, Chinese archaeologists have salvaged more than 4,000 relics from Nan'ao 1, a merchant vessel lying on a 27-meter-deep seabed. This is the only sunken ship China has discovered that dates back to the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The salvage of Nan'ao 1 is listed as 2010's "No.1 Project" by China's Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Center. The excavation of relics in the vessel is to be finished in the first half of 2010, and salvage of the wreck will be finished in the next two years.
China's sea trade exporting silk and porcelain began to flourish in the 7th century, taking south China's Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Ningbo as its starting points. This marine Silk Road is also called the "porcelain road." Ancient vessels that have sunk dating back to that period of history are seldom seen, let alone a complete vessel for which there are measurement statistics. The discovery of Nan'ao 1 shows the sea area off Nan'ao Island in Shantou, Guangdong Province, was an important trading area for Chinese and foreign merchant vessels in the Ming Dynasty. It was one of the major sections of the ancient marine Silk Road at that time and also a transit point for international trade. Nan'ao 1 adds to the substantial amount of evidence related to the prosperous marine Silk Road.
Most of the ware taken from the sunken ship, thousands of porcelain products, are common blue and white porcelain fired in private folk kilns. The significance of the excavation of Nan'ao 1 is because the vessel itself and the goods in the vessel are cultural relics, and will help considerably in the research of foreign trade of the era and also of history of shipbuilding and navigation during the Ming Dynasty.
China has a coastline of 18,000 km as well as more than 3 million square km of territorial seas. The country boasts a long history of maritime culture and consequently has a tremendous underwater cultural heritage, such as sunken vessels. Experts estimate China's sea areas may accommodate as many as 2,000 sunken ships and vessels. In accordance with the country's archaeological policies, the ideal is to preserve artifacts where they are. However, because of greed, underwater vessels are often robbed, which leads to cultural relics being damaged.
China did not start in underwater archaeology until 20 years ago. In the past two decades, the work has developed a certain large scale. In the beginning, archaeology could only be conducted in offshore areas. Nowadays, the situation has improved and work can be carried out in deep sea waters. China's underwater archaeology work is catching up with advanced level around the world and a series of works have made great headway.