GUANGZHOU: Marine archaeologists have been given the green light to recover more ancient artifacts from the Nanhai No 1, a merchant vessel shipwrecked around 800 years ago.
Chinese experts hope to find rare hidden treasures in the cabins of the ship, which was been preserved in a special pool at the Marine Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang, Guangdong province, since it was recovered from the bottom of the South China Sea in 2007.
The plan, proposed by the Yangjiang government, won approval from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in May, said Feng Shaowen, director of the municipal publicity bureau.
Details of the project have not yet been released but it is expected to take three to five years.
Discovered in 1987 off the coast near Yangjiang, Nanhai No 1 is believed to been one of the oldest and biggest merchant boats sunk in Chinese waters.
Archaeologists have already recovered more than 4,000 artifacts from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) vessel, including gold, silver and porcelain, and about 6,000 copper coins.
Among the 1,000 delicate porcelain wares, many were made to feature foreign patterns and styles, said Feng.
Experts suggested the ship could confirm the existence of an ancient maritime trade route that linked China and the West.
As early as 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese traders began taking silk and other commodities to foreign lands along the trading route. It started from ports in what are today Guangdong and Fujian provinces to countries in southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Marine Silk Road, like the ancient Silk Road on land, was also a bridge for connecting cultures. But evidence of the route's existence is rare, said Huang Zongwei, a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou.
Since 2007, the 30-m Nanhai No 1 has been in the museum's Crystal Palace, submerged in a sealed pool 64 m long, 40 m wide and about 12 m deep. It is filled with seawater and silt to replicate the conditions of the seabed it sat on for centuries. Construction on the Marine Silk Road Museum began in early 2006, costing 170 million yuan ($ 25 million).