Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
A mind-bogglingly huge treasure trove found on a 1000-year-old shipwreck by Indonesian fishermen is going on sale in Jakarta Wednesday. It’s the biggest treasure ever found in Asia, and comparable to the most valuable shipwreck ever found period, the Atocha, an early 17th century Spanish vessel found off the Florida coast.
On sale will be 271,000 individual pieces, including precious gems, Iranian glassware and Imperial Chinese porcelain all dating back to the first millennium A.D. The estimated value of the auction is a staggering 80 million dollars.
The pieces include the largest known vase from the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) and famous Yue Mise wares from the Five Dynasties (907-960), with the green colouring exclusive to the emperor.
Around 11,000 pearls, 4,000 rubies, 400 dark red sapphires and more than 2,200 garnets were also pulled from the depths by [Belgian treasure-hunter Luc] Heymans and his team of international divers.
It took 22,000 dives to bring it all to shore. There was a great deal of trade between Arabia, India, Java and Sumatra back then, but even so, whoever was on that ship must have been a big shot. Heymans speculates that all the Imperial porcelain suggests there was an ambassador on board. There was so much of it that when he first dove to the site, all he could see was a mountain of porcelain, no wood from the ship structure at all.
Recovering the treasure turned out to be the least of Heymans’ difficulties. He had arranged permits for the excavation and retrieval of the shipwreck, but the Indonesian police still arrested two of the divers. They stayed in jail for a month while Heymans worked out the problem. Meanwhile, other treasure-hunters tried to poach the find, the Indonesian navy got all up in his grill and the government spent a couple of years drafting new legislation to deal with the discovery.
Finally he cut a deal: the Indonesian government declared some of the treasure national heritage and therefore not salable, and it gets 50% of the sale proceeds from the rest of the treasure. So Heymans and his backers will have to settle for a mere $40 million at minimum.