2. Investigation and Excavation

Text by Michael Flecker, underwater & onsite photographs courtesy PT Cosmix Asia, all other illustrations and photos by the author

2019

The Lingga Wreck is located approximately 7 nautical miles southwest of Pulau Tuka, which lies just west of the larger Pulau Buaya, both being part of the Lingga group of islands. It lies in 35 metres of water, where strong currents predominate. The seabed consists of silty-sand overlying stiff grey clay.

Shipwreck location between Sumatra and the Lingga Island group.
Figure 4: Shipwreck location between Sumatra and the Lingga Island group.

When PT Cosmix Asia first inspected the site, there were intact ceramics visible on the surface of the wreck mound, including numerous stacks of bowls adhering to iron concretions. However, from the lack of marine growth on many of the exposed shards, it was evident that extensive looting had taken place.

After establishing a centre-line and numbering transverse grid lines, excavation was conducted with a combination of water-dredges and air-lifts. Throughout each day, basket-loads of ceramics were winched to the surface for cleaning and documentation. After sufficient accumulation, they were transferred to a warehouse on the industrial island of Batam for desalination and categorisation.

Only a few sections of surviving hull were uncovered, generally beneath iron concretions. It is supposed that with the underlying stiff clay seabed, burial of the hull was limited. Exposed timbers would have been quickly consumed by teredo worms. Several planks were brought to the surface for documentation. After fanning away a dusting of sediment during a post-excavation dive, the author directly observed several light frames and distorted hull planks in-situ at the western periphery of the site.

Initial site investigation by PT Cosmix Asia. There is clear evidence of looting.
Figure 5: Initial site investigation by PT Cosmix Asia. There is clear evidence of looting.
A number of hull planks with carved lugs were recovered for documentation.
Figure 6: A number of hull planks with carved lugs were recovered for documentation.

The hull planks incorporated carved lugs at regular intervals. The bevelled rectangular lugs were pierced with two to four sets of holes for the frame lashings. Their width was approximately half of the plank width, and less in some instances, while lugs on the contemporaneous Flying Fish Wreck (Flecker forthcoming) were all more than half of the plank width. Interestingly, the lugs on some of the Lingga planks were well offset from centre. The planks themselves were relatively narrow, varying from 14 to 19 cm, and only 3 cm thick. They were edge-joined with wooden dowels, with a typical centre-to-centre spacing of 11 cm.

Dowels were used to edge-join the hull planks.
Figure 7: Dowels were used to edge-join the hull planks.

During the author’s investigation dives, several ceramic types were noted, including brown-ware jars, straight and everted-rim bowls, folded-rim bowls, and brown painted dishes. Chinese coins, copper alloy anklets and coiled wire, and a chunk of resin were also observed in-situ and recovered. Various other ceramic types were noted in underwater photographs and video.

Stacks of bowls revealed under the centre-line rope after a layer of sand was removed by air-lifting.
Figure 8: Stacks of bowls revealed under the centre-line rope after a layer of sand was removed by air-lifting.
Stacks of bowls and a vase recovered from beneath the sediment.
Figure 9: Stacks of bowls and a vase recovered from beneath the sediment.
Stacks of folded-rim bowls stuck to an iron concretion.
Figure 10: Stacks of folded-rim bowls stuck to an iron concretion.

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