The discovery of the Koh Sdech shipwreck has excited historians
and treasure hunters eager to either analyze or profit from the potential findings.
Michael Bosworth, author of The Rise and Fall of Chinese Sea Power
answered inquiries from the Post by e-mail.
Post: What could you tell us about a roughly 500-year-old shipwreck found off
I'd say it's likely a Chinese trading ship. They followed the coastline going south.
In the times of the Indian Ocean expeditions that I wrote of (circa 1400-1500), trading
was less of a commercial enterprise for monetary gain and more of a court exercise
for curios and influence. I suspect that over time it became a commercial enterprise,
and that this was such.
Post: What can you deduce from the description of the ship and its contents?
The description doesn't tell much, but it sounds like a commercial trading ship,
at least that'd be a first guess. After [Chinese admiral] Zheng Ho, trade ships were
legally constrained to a single mast (and thus the ship size limited). This sounds
like it might be of those slightly later times...a ship designer pushing the size
limit of the ship, with the limitation of being permitted only a single mast.
Post: Ány guesses as to what might be inside the ships body?
Cargo and ship's crew equipment that didn't burn or deteriorate. I'd be interested
to see what a good archeological underwater 'dig' would reveal of each of (a) the
crew's life, (b) the ship's technical state (especially navigation) and (c) the commercial
interaction of the period (when the time period is identified....).
Post: The ship was burned, divers say. Why might this be? Any history of piracy
in this era/location?
Fire at sea has always been a hazard....cooking fire got loose, lightning, self
destruction due to other damage (highest risk...rough weather and running aground),
and indeed piracy. I think there has been piracy in those waters for most periods,
but other evidence would need to be found to determine the reason for the burning
Post: What advice do you have for the Cambodian recovery team?
One caution I would pass on...there have been many ship digs that either brought
up artifacts willy-nilly and in doing so, destroyed the majority of the information,
or brought up stuff and didn't adequately preserve it and much of it (especially
any surviving wood) rather rapidly disintegrated. A professional capable dig will
slowly go through and document layer by layer (photographing and measuring and drawing)
and will also have special means of preserving (often wood is soaked in a preservative
for years to save it). There is also often a danger of sports divers pillaging, if
there is not adequate security. This could be a story in itself...is the dig going
to be done 'well' or is it rather haphazard and thus putting the history at considerable