8. Conclusion

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


Indonesian company, PT Cosmix Asia, excavated the Lingga Wreck during 2016 and 2017 under a license issued by the Governor of Riau province. There was no archaeological supervision. Apart from video and still photography, there was no formal documentation of the hull or cargo in-situ. Even though the excavation had many shortcomings, it has resulted in significant outcomes. The looting that was occurring prior to official intervention resulted only in loss.

Cosmix obtained permission for the author to inspect the site and the warehouse post-excavation, and arranged the logistics. This report is a result of these site visits and follow-up research.

Hull planks recovered during the official excavation, and others observed by the author in-situ, have been carved to shape and incorporate perforated lugs along one side. Dowels line the plank edges at fixed intervals. These are key features of the Southeast Asian lashed-lug tradition which spans at least a thousand years through to the early 14th century.

Although the ship and almost certainly the crew were Southeast Asian, the cargo was exclusively Chinese. Cast and wrought iron constituted a paying ballast, fairly typical of cargo ships of the period. The great weight, low in the hold, would have stabilised the ship; however, the iron would have been removed and sold at the final destination as it was a highly sought-after commodity. Ceramics were stowed around and above the iron, with virtually all types originating from Guangdong kilns. The iron may have been produced in northern China, but with the bulk of the cargo coming from Guangdong, the port of embarkation for the goods was almost certainly Guangzhou.

From Guangzhou, the Lingga ship would have followed the western route down the South China Sea before picking her way unsuccessfully through the convoluted Riau Archipelago. Archaeological evidence suggests that the region of Muara Jambi on the Batanghari river was the intended destination. However, given that the wreck was located on an unnecessarily dangerous route, perhaps the ship was heading for a currently unknown port-city on the nearby Indragiri River.

The cyclical date provided by Chinese characters decorating Xicun-style bowls does not seem to be relevant to the dating of the wreck. However, a stylistic analysis of the ceramics, together with Chinese coins of various reigns and radiocarbon dates from the contemporaneous Flying Fish Wreck, have narrowed down the date range for the Lingga Wreck to the last few years of the Northern Song dynasty (1111 to 1127 CE).

Accurate dating creates a reference collection of the Lingga cargo. The cross-analysis of two other shipwrecks, the Pulau Buaya Wreck and the Flying Fish Wreck, has already led to the powerful conclusion that they and the Lingga Wreck were likely to be sister ships, all lost in the last two decades of the Northern Song. Without the investigation of the Lingga Wreck, they would have remained broadly dated and therefore lacking in context. It is hoped that the Lingga Wreck, both ship and cargo, will make many more contributions in the future.