Posted in
May 17, 2022

Researchers to examine the origins of the Maritime Silk Route

An international team of researchers will be delving into medieval ceramics and how they led to the origins of the Maritime Silk Route.

Beginning in the mid-1400s, the Maritime Silk Route – in which the Indian Ocean connected lands as far as the Middle East and Indonesia – witnessed the largest known expansion of global trade, but the true legacy of objects retrieved from this time has not been fully understood because most were salvaged and dispersed without the archaeological recordings of their find-spots.

Archaeologists and heritage specialists from Australia, Indonesia, and across Southeast Asia are now set to reveal the stories behind the largest known collections of trade ceramic in the world. The project – Returning cargoes: Underwater Cultural Heritage of the Maritime Silk Route – is led by archaeologist Martin Polkinghorne of Flinders University in Australia.

“Our first task will be reuniting the pieces with the ships they came from, and this will develop a detailed narrative of ancient global trade on the doorstep of Australia,” Dr Polkinghorne says. “We will work hand-in-hand with regional colleagues, especially from Indonesia. The intention is to ensure the pieces are correctly provenanced and to reconnect them with the communities of their origins to restore their cultural value.”

Expected to take more than four years, the research project will foster opportunities for higher degree research students from Indonesia and Southeast Asia coming to Flinders to investigate underwater cultural heritage. They will work with vast collections held by the Republic of Indonesia as well as another amassed by Michael Abbott, an Australian collector.

“This is great opportunity to work together with Flinders University to re-write historical narrative of the collections recovered from Indonesian waters,” adds says Dr. Miftahul Huda from the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Republic of Indonesia. “These collections are extensive source of knowledge and we believe that good interpretation will bring an awareness and involvement of public, particularly young generations, to better understanding of Indonesia maritime past.”

In Australia, the team will research the origins of Mr Abbott’s collection, now entrusted to Flinders University. Comprising more than 2,300 pieces – it is believed to be the most extensive collection of trade ceramics in Australia.

‘It’s important to recognise that this international collaboration will lead the way in evaluating these types of ceramics and work to discover the context of their origins,’ says Mr Abbott.

By employing and enhancing international conventions that relate to these collections, Dr Polkinghorne and his team hope to preserve the underwater cultural heritage of our region for future generations.

Top Image: Example of ceramics which are part of Flinders origin research project, Flinders University. Photo courtesy Flinders University May 17, 2022 at 10:52PM

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