ICMM visits China and Nan Hai No.1 Ship

The post-congress tours for the ICMM 2015 Congress in Hong Kong, gave the opportunity for delegates to visit museums in mainland China as well as Macao and Hong Kong.  A particularly memorable trip took us to museums in both Guangzhou and Yangjiang in the Guangdong province of southern China.

ICMM delegates at the Maritime Silk Road Museum at Hayling Island, Yangjiang, China 

Christopher Dobbs, ICMM’s Chair of the Maritime Archaeology Committee reports:

“I was particularly keen to visit the Maritime Silk Road Museum on Hayling Island near Yangjiang as the museum concept is one of the most fascinating that I have ever come across.  The general idea is to celebrate the great Chinese trade routes of the past, but to illustrate this, they raised a well preserved junk from the bottom of the sea, Mary-Rose-style, and placed it in a purpose-built tank the size of an Olympic swimming pool as the centrepiece of the museum.  But they didn’t raise the ship empty after excavation, as we raised the Mary Rose, they raised it complete with all its contents still buried in the muds that covered it and with the seabed itself for a few metres around the ship.  Imagine pushing an enormous shoebox (with no base) down into the seabed around a shipwreck, then digging around the outside of the shoebox enough to slot in a floor and then raising the whole package.  That is what they achieved.  This package is now in the museum and visitors can see it being excavated.  I first visited the museum in 2010 when the ship was still underwater and it was tantalising to think of this ship, still in a box in the centre of the swimming pool”.


Nan Hai No.1 shipwreck during excavation inside the Museum

Pottery still stacked between the bulkheads in the hold

Dry excavation

As an archaeologist who appreciates the advantages of excavating underwater, Chris is sad that they chose to excavate it ‘dry’, as in this controlled environment they could have taken the techniques of working underwater to new heights (depths?). But it has allowed them to carry out very frequent scanning of the site from an overhead gantry so the recording should again be ground-breaking for a wreck site.  

By extending his visit to the museum over a few days after the congress tour Chris was able to witness the excavations close up and also exchange many ideas both with museum staff, the excavation team and a group of Chinese museum professionals who were attending a local workshop in the museum.  

Chris sums up the experience “To me the museum visit to see Nan Hai No.1 sums up the whole spirit of the ICMM 2015 Congress in Hong Kong and China that was subtitled ‘Connections’. There is so much that we can learn from each other internationally, and establishing connections with our colleagues at maritime museums around the world will help us all to develop and improve our own individual museums”.


ICMM President, Steve Wright, being interviewed for Chinese television during the visit