Belanankan (Blanakan) Ming Jiajing/Longqing Shipwreck

On 5 May 2010,The Jakarta Post reported the recovery of  over 12,400 items of  Chinese ceramics from a ship wreck  about 50 km from Belanakan  in Subang, West Java.   They were believed to originate from the Ming dynasty era.   The ship was about  50 m x 20 m and lies 58 meters under the surface of Java Sea.  The blue and white wares consisted of  plates, bowls, jars and vases .  About 40 percent of the recovered items are still in good condition. 

According to the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry's director general for surveillance and control, Aji Sularso, he said that : ""Given the large size of the cargo, we predict that we need to dive for a year to secure all of its precious loads, which may amount to 1 million pieces; larger than the number of items secured from the shipwreck in Cirebon ...... It is predicted to be a cargo ship sunken somewhere in 1,600s... Archaeologists believe, from the blue motives of the white ceramics, that they originate from the Ming dynasty,"

From what I have gathered so far, the exact number of ceramics is not clear but at least more than 350.000 pieces.  Some of the pieces have also appeared in the Jakarta antique market.  I have seen some broken jars with birds and floral motif similar to the below piece. 

Blue and white Jar with bird/floral motif from Belanakan wreck

Two Ming shipwrecks with confirmed sunken dates are particularly useful and instructive for dating the Jingdezhen blue and white wares from the Belanakan wreck.  The Ming Jiajing San Sebastian wreck, situated near the sea in Fort San Sebastian in Moçambique was dated to 1554 A.D.  The Ming Wanli San Diego wreck, situated near the Fortune island in Batangas province in the Philippines was dated to 1600 A.D.  Overall, we can see that the colour tone of the cobalt has changed.  Those from the San Sebastian wreck show a purplish blue or more grayish purplish blue tone.  By 1600 A.D, the overall colour tone is generally a more silvery or grayish blue.  In terms of the colour tone, those from the Belanakan wreck are more akin to those from the San Sebastian wreck.  Stylistically, the motifs found on the blue and white wares on the Belanakan wreck are also more similar to those from the San Sebastian wreck.  So far, no Ming Wanli kraak style blue and white wares has been found in the Belanakan wreck.  Hence, the Belanakan wreck can be dated to the 2nd half of 16th Century and very likely towards the transition from late Jiajing/Longqing period.

Examples from San Sebastian wreck

Examples from the San Diego wreck

Some examples from the Belanakan wreck are shown below.

Examples from the Belanakan wreck


Big plates with flowers executed in calligraphic style

Vases wtih calligraphic style floral decoration

Similar example in my collection

In the wreck, there are also some big blue and white plates and vases with floral decoration executed in calligraphic style.  They are likely among the earliest known examples of Swatow (Zhangzhou) wares.   The San Felipe wreck which sank near Florida in 1576 A.D. ie 4th year of Ming Wanli period carried some Zhangzhou blue and white wares.  The below drawing of a plate from the San Felipe shows striking stylistic similarity in terms of the floral decoration.

Yuegang situated near Zhangzhou was a well-known port where Chinese ceramics were smuggled overseas since the Mid Ming period.  During the first year of Longqing (1567 A.D), the Ming Ming court finally lifted the ban on foreign trade.  So far, archaeologial findings have not been able to positively identify the earliest date of production of Zhangzhou blue and white ware.  However, looking at it from the historical development, with the lifting of ban, the condition was right for the Zhangzhou potters to seize the opportunity to produce their own line of blue and white for export.  


Written by: NK Koh (28 Oct 2013)


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