National Geographic : 2009 Jun
• and known as a baitl qarib. Almost 60 feet long, with a raked prow and stern, it was built of Afri- can and Indian wood and tted with a square sail. Its most distinctive feature was that instead of being held together with dowels or nails, its planks and beams were literally sewn together, probably with coir, a coconut-husk ber. e dhow s port of departure and destina- tion are still uncertain. No logbooks survived, no bills of lading, no maps. But most scholars believe that it was bound for the Middle East, possibly the Iraqi port city of Al Basrah (now Basra). It probably set sail from Guangzhou, the largest of the ports linked by the Maritime Silk Route. In the ninth century an estimated 10,000 foreign traders and merchants, many of them Arabs and Persians, lived in Guangzhou. Among the tens of thousands of Changsha bowls found in the wreck, one was inscribed with this message: "the 16th day of the seventh month of the second year of the Baoli reign," or . . 826 on the Western calendar. is is al- most certainly when the bowl was red. en, as now, goods did not sit around on the wharf for long, so the ship probably embarked not long a erward. The serial nature of the cargo (along with the bowls, it included 763 identical inkpots, 915 spice jars of various sizes, 1,635 ewers) and the geographic diversity of its production (from at least ve kilns widely dispersed over China) suggest that these were export items made to order. Decorations show the eclecti- cism of the global market. ere is something for everyone: Buddhist lotus symbols and motifs from Central Asia and Persia. Objects bearing geometric decorations and Koranic inscriptions were clearly aimed at the Islamic market. White ceramicware as well as green- splashed bowls and ewers are known to have been popular in Iran. One bowl was inscribed with five loose vertical lines, interpreted by some scholars as a symbol whose meaning resonates powerfully in today s world: Allah. stoneware jars from the scouring action of sand on the sea oor. Sponged clean, their glazes shone as brightly as the day they were red. e handmade bowls give evidence of "factory- like production," says John Miksic, an American professor at Singapore s National University who is an expert on Southeast Asian archae- ology. They are the earliest known exported examples of their kind. " e cargo also implies an organizer with managerial skill," Miksic says, "and huge quantities of imported raw materi- als." Cobalt for blue-and-white ceramics, for example, came from Iran; it was not recovered from ore in China until much later. Although Arab mariners clearly plied the Maritime Silk Route, trading on a large scale over great distances, "this is the rst Arab dhow discovered in Southeast Asian waters," says John Guy, senior curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, "and the richest and largest consignment of early ninth-century southern Chinese gold and ceramics ever discovered in a single hoard." A reconstruction suggests the cra was simi- lar to a kind of sailing vessel still found in Oman TRADE GOODS e ship carried some 55,000 bowls made for export in Hunan Province kilns. Most bowls are six to eight inches across, and many were packed in large jars (above). Fish, owers, religious symbols, even poems, applied in copper- and iron-based glazes, decorate the stoneware.