Why Exhibit this Material?
A Message from Julian Raby
Director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Several factors solidified my decision to co-organize a world tour of objects from the Belitung shipwreck. First, the ship's salvage was legal under Indonesian law. Beyond that, special care was eventually given to the recovery, with an archaeologist recording details of the boat and site, and retrieving organic materials—including samples from the hull, to which some salvagers pay scant attention.
Above all, this cargo was not sold piecemeal but has been kept largely intact. It thus offers unparalleled insight into China's industrial capacity and global trade more than a millennium ago. It is an enormous trove that, at the close of its world tour, will become the centerpiece of a museum in Singapore.
The salvage of the Belitung wreck was legal; the question is whether it was ethical. You may or may not have an opinion about it. Either way, I encourage you to peruse the background information on the subject provided here, including international accords pertaining to underwater archaeology, Indonesian laws relating to shipwrecks, the salvage of the Belitung ship and the company involved in this operation, influential directives against salvage archaeology, and the views of some archaeologists that pragmatism provides a greater safeguard than rigid principle. I hope you will find the extracts, links, and references on the following pages helpful as we continue this complex and fascinating discussion about historical preservation.
It is my sincere hope that this traveling exhibition, Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds, will encourage both the public and politicians in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region to value their maritime heritage. The Singapore Government's commitment in purchasing the cargo, and, surely, in creating a home for it on its return will hopefully be the catalyst for investment across the region in the structures and institutions that can best study and preserve the underwater archaeological record.