Shipwreck reveals ancient market for knock-off consumer goods

Photo of portable x-ray fluorescence detector

Enlarge / Archaeologists
use a portable X-ray fluorescence detector to analyze 900-year-old
artifacts. (credit: Xu et al. 2019)

Sometime in the late 12th century CE, a merchant ship laden with
trade goods sank off the coast of Java. The 100,000 ceramic
vessels, 200 tons of iron, and smaller amounts of ivory, resin, and
tin ingots offer a narrow window onto a much broader world of
global trade and political change. The merchant vessel that sank in
the Java Sea was the pointy tip of a very long spear, and a new
study sheds some light on the trade networks and manufacturing
industry hidden behind its cargo—all thanks to a little help from
a cool X-ray gun.

Sailing ancient trade routes

There was a network of trade routes that crisscrossed the Indian
Ocean and South China Sea by the late 12th century, linking Song
Dynasty China to far-flung ports in Japan and Southeast Asia to the
east, Indonesia to the south, and the Middle East and eastern
Africa to the west. Merchant ships carried crops, raw materials
like metals and resin, and manufactured goods like ceramics along
these routes. Today, ceramics are a common sight in shipwrecks in
these waters, partly because the material outlasts most other
things on the seafloor, and partly because of the sheer volumes
that could be packed into the holds of merchant ships from around
800 CE to 1300 CE.

Archaeologists have found Chinese ceramics at sites stretching
from Japan to the east coast of Africa. And excavations in
Southeast China have unearthed several kiln complexes, each with
hundreds of dragon kilns—long tunnels dug into hillsides, which
could fire up to 30,000 ceramic pieces at a time—clustered into a
few square kilometers. All that production was aimed at exporting
ceramic bowls, boxes, and other containers to overseas markets.
“Most ceramics from this region are seldom recovered from
domestic settings in China and are almost exclusively found along
the maritime trading routes,” Field Museum archaeologist Lisa
Niziolek, a co-author on the study, told Ars Technica.

Read 12
remaining paragraphs

Source: FS – All – Science – News
Shipwreck reveals ancient market for knock-off consumer goods