Identification of export porcelains from early 17th Century VOC shipwrecks and the linkage to their cultural identification

Dublin Core


Identification of export porcelains from early 17th Century VOC shipwrecks and the linkage to their cultural identification


Session 4
The archaeological study of ships’ cargo, hull, and maritime infrastructure


Ceramics recovered from sunken vessels have drawn much attention in recent years. They are significant historical and aesthetic items but only a few reports have been made for scholarly purposes; many have been salvaged for commercial gain. Porcelain shards from underwater sites can be used as identification material for cultural heritage: porcelain was an important trade commodity of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and had an enormous impact on the cultural heritage of the Netherlands and Europe. The VOC trade routes included inter-Asian markets and the transport of porcelain to these ports also had an influence on the local cultural heritage. This paper will give an insight on the distribution routes by VOC ships with porcelain cargoes and the shards from some VOC shipwrecks as identification material of such porcelain.

During a recent symposium in Hong Kong, it was evident that researchers in China and Taiwan consider the porcelain trade of export wares for the western market as part of their cultural heritage. For example, a certain type of export porcelain known as kraak ware has been found in several tombs in China. There was a discussion on the value and usage of this porcelain: was it used as a ‘gift’ for the deceased? Or was it a show of being well-to-do? Other topics such as the influence of orders of porcelain for the western market on the inland markets and economy were also discussed. Another discussion was the value of ceramics discovered at underwater sites. Chinese researchers have done enormous work at sites on the maritime trade routes. Only token shards were salvaged for study purposes and shards have no value on the collectors market.

Another issue discussed concerned the salvage of historic shipwrecks, a continuing debate between archaeologists, who value wrecks largely for their historical value, and profit-motivated salvage companies, who care only about their market value. We discussed how can we preserve shipwreck materials and documentation for future research in an ethical manner. The author suggested the following: In the past years there have been numerous archaeological researches, on land as well as from shipwrecks. The best way to preserve this knowledge is to put together all the results into one global Internet platform which would give the opportunity to leave and discuss drafts, ongoing research and reports. It could also host an agenda of events and links to useful websites. In this way researchers can keep in touch and keep each other updated. The Civilisation Centre of the City University of Hong Kong has agreed to cooperate and others will surely follow.


Christine Ketel


November 2011



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