The wreck of the Nanhai No. 1 is illustrated on the seabed before salvage.

China kept this 800-year-old shipwreck a secret for decades

An intact 12th-century junk was found on the bottom of the South China Sea in 1987. It took 20 years just to develop an excavation plan that preserved this priceless time capsule.

The wreck of the Nanhai No. 1 is illustrated on the seabed before salvage.
Maritime Silk Road Museum Guangdong

The British firm Maritime Exploration was looking for a Dutch East India Company shipwreck in the South China Sea in 1987 when it came across something more elusive: an intact merchant vessel from the 1100s. With the Chinese company Guangzhou Salvage, the team was trying to locate a ship belonging to the trading company that had sunk in the 1700s. Instead, in the waters between Hong Kong and Hailing Island in Guangdong Province, they found a 100-foot-long junk dated to the Southern Song period of the 12th century.

(Kublai Khan defeated the Song Dynasty and united China.)

In 1125 the Song dynasty lost control of northern China. The emperor retreated south and soon set up a new capital at Lin’an (today Hangzhou). Known as the Southern Song, this state survived and even flourished. 

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