Shipwreck Stories

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    In May 2001 a wrecksite was inadvertently discovered off the shores of Santa Cruz municipality in northern Zambales Province in May 2001. The site was initially looted by fishermen-divers using improvised surface supplied air (hookah) before the #NationalMuseumPH intervened. Subsequent investigations revealed a wooden shipwreck with ceramic cargo so it was immediately excavated by the combined effort of the NMP and the Far Eastern Foundation for Nautical Archaeology (FEFNA) between July and September of 2001.
    Substantial damage occured at the seabed level as shown by broken ceramics but did not reach the vessel’s lower hull and cargo, having been buried deeper. The excavations yielded more than 15,000 archaeological objects and would have been much more if not for the illegal recoveries. Majority of the recovered pieces comprised high-fired and glazed porcelain and stoneware ceramics from China along with a limited pieces from Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. The shape and decorative analysis of the ceramics places a relative sinking date of the Santa Cruz vessel between the late 15th and early 16th centuries CE.
    The equally interesting non-ceramic artefacts include iron objects like cauldrons and ingots, bronze objects such as small cannons, guns, gongs, and oil lamps, as well as brass and glass bracelets, iron handles, copper coins, and tin ingots. Also found were glass and carnelian beads, wood and stone implements, a stone sharpener for knives, and a stone-grinding roller. There were also organic remains found inside some of the stoneware jars, including cinnamon, cloves, sandalwood, and nutmeg.
    The vessel measured approximately 25 meters long and six (6) meters wide, with 16 transverse bulkheads or compartments. The ship’s construction technique belongs to the South China Sea Shipbuilding Tradition that incorporates the Southeast Asian vessel shipbuilding technique of using dowels and a keel, and the Chinese shipbuilding technique of using iron nails and bulkheads. This is similar in construction with the Lena Shoal shipwreck that was previously posted in the NMP’s #MaritimeMonday.
    The location of the shipwreck in the Philippines is significant as it shows the participation of ancient Philippine societies in the regional trading network. Similar Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramic wares that the Santa Cruz carried have been found in various Philippine terrestrial contexts such as burials and habitation sites that reveal the use of foreign objects as items of utility, trade and ceremony by the local populace. The vessel also is a reflection of the interconnectedness of peoples from different cultures that exchanged not only material goods but also transmitted ideas, religion, culture, and other forms of intangible heritage that exists until the present.
    The archaeological study is very important in supporting accurate interpretations of past events, which helps in reconstructing our history. When a site is disturbed or pilfered, we lose information forever without the significant context to assist us in piecing together our story. This is much more valuable than the selfish individual’s monetary gain or enriching their personal collections. Our heritage and recounting its narrative through material culture benefits future generations and our aspirations as a nation. If you see or have knowledge of sites being looted, report to your local government authorities immediately or contact the closest NMP office near you.

    credits: NMP

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