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Kudat Song Shipwreck

The wreck was said to be discovered by fisherman on 15 Apr 2003.  However, based on the condition of the wreck, it is obvious that looting of the cargo had already taken place before the official announcement.   Some quantity of the ceramics from this wreck made their way to antique shops in Kota Kinabalu. The Sabah Museum gave Nanhai Marine Archaeology Sdn Bhd, a salvage company,  a permit to excavate the site. More than 800 ceramic and non-ceramic items were salvaged  from a depth of 400 metres from the Tanjung Simpang Mengayau shore at the northern tip of Borneo, close to Kudat in Sabah.  Simpang Mengayau meaning  'lingering junction' is where the South China Sea lingers and meets the Sulu Seas.  The treacherous coastline was the cause of many past shipwrecks.  



Kudat wreck,  dated to the Song period, is the oldest  shipwreck discovered in Malaysian waters.  Some of the salvaged items are now on display at the Sabah museum.

I visited Sabah Museum in Aug 2011According to the museum short introduction of the wreck, the wreck is a Chinese merchant ship which was probably on its way to Brunei which ancient Chinese text recorded that it had diplomatic and trading relationship with China since the Song Dynasty.  The following types of ceramics were found:

a)  Celadon bowls and dishes with carved motif from Tongan (同安) kiln in Fujian Province

b)  Qingbai ewers and cover boxes from Fujian province

c)  Celadon dishes with carved floral motif from Longquan

d)  Kendis and jars from Guangdong province

After examining the ceramics artifacts on display, I am of the view that they are dated to Early Southern Song period.  Some of the Qingbai ewers , cover boxes, Fujian celadon with carved motif and Fujian cizao brown glaze kendis  are similar to those found in the Jepara shipwreck.  The celadon bowls and dishes with carved motif are from Fujian kilns, some could be produced in Tongan (同安) but we cannot preclude the possibility of other coastal kilns.  Kiln sites excavation revealed that kilns in county such as Nanan (南安), Fuqing (福清), Putian (莆田), Anxi (安溪) and  Minhou (闽侯) also produced similar style celadon wares. The dark brown kendis and jars are most likely products of Quanzhou Cizao (泉州磁灶) kiln  .

Ceramics recovered form the Kudat wreck


The 'mercury jars', ewers and kendis are most likely products of Cizao kiln in Quanzhou.


Cizao kiln kendis in Jepara wreck

Fujian celadon bowls with carved motif in Kudat wreck

Celadon bowl and dishes with carved motif from Fujian kiln

Qingbai ewers.  Similar ewers were recovered from Jepara wreck

Qingbai ewer from Fujian kiln from Jepara wreck

The large number of Fujian ceramics found in the Jepara, Nanhai 1 and Kudat wreck is testament of the importance of Quanzhou as the main port where goods were assembled and exported through the maritime trade route.   Quanzhou replaced Guangzhou as the most important port during the Southern Song period.  It maintained its prominent role during the Yuan period.  Fujian coastal region just like Guangdong during the Tang/Northern Song period, capitalised on its strategic location and built kilns to produce ceramics which copied the famous kiln such as celadon from Longquan, Qingbai from Jingdezhen and temmoku bowls from Jian kiln.  Such products targeted mainly the consumers from Southeast Asia region. However, some quantity also made their way along the mairtime trade route to places as far as India, middle East and East Africa.


Written by NK Koh (10 Jul 2012)

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