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13th Century Mongolian Shipwreck Found off Nagasaki

By The Maritime Executive 10-24-2011 04:03:55

Okinawa Prefecture's University of the Ryukyus has announced that large parts of a Mongolian ship presumed to have been part of a 13th century Yuan Dynasty-era invasion fleet has been discovered on the seafloor near Nagasaki.  The find is the first intact wreck related to invasion attempts of Japan by the Mongolian ruler, Kublai Khan.

The archaeology team, headed by Yoshifumi Ikeda, found the near complete hull structure about 1-meter under the seabed, and about 20-25 meters beneath the ocean’s surface off the Takashima Island in Matsuura Nagasaki.  The discovery is so monumental because much of the hull has remained intact, including a 12-meter section of the keels with rows of planks attached to the keel, Ikeda reported.  The vessel appears to be well preserved due to the cover of sand. 

PHOTO: A painting of Shizu, better known as Kublai Khan, emperor of the Yuan Dynasty.

The team believes that the vessel wreckage will provide vital insights into the Khan-led Mongol attacks between 1274 and 1281, which had been mostly based on information gathered from drawings and documents, and not real artifacts. 

Ikeda told reporters that he believes they will be able to understand more about 13th century shipbuilding skills, as well as trading situations of East Asia.  Both sides of the keel were painted a whitish-gray color, and the planking was held together by nails.  In addition to the hull with keel, they also found remains of the ship’s rubs and bulkheads.  Weaponry, bricks (used as ballast in ancient sailing), ink stones, and pottery dated to the Yuan Dynasty were also found with the ship’s wreckage.  The research team was able to link the wreck to the Yuan fleet because of these items, and because the structure bears a close resemblance to Chinese ships of that era. 

PHOTO: Yuan Dynasty hand cannon.

Although items related to the ship have been found in previous expeditions, this is the first time in history that archaeologists have located such a large and well preserved invasion ship dating back to the 13th century.

The ship was located using ultrasonic equipment and is what the director of the Japan Society for Nautical Research is calling a “miracle” due to how much of the ship remains after sitting under the sea for so many centuries. 

Ikeda said that they plan to expand their search efforts and hope to lift and restore the entire vessel, and Matsuura city officials hope that the discovery will turn the area into a tourist spot attracting visitors from all over the globe.

The vessel found is one of some 4,400 Mongolian fleet ships that sank off of the coast of Takashima during an ill-fated mission to occupy Japan.