- 2004/07/04 Wreck yields Ming treasure trove

A treasure trove of Ming dynasty porcelain has been recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Malaysia.

About 20% of the salvaged 6,000 blue and white porcelain items are in pristine condition, despite being underwater for about 400 years.

Among the recovered items are bowls bearing the mark of Emperor Chenghua, who ruled China in the 15th Century.

The 21-metre vessel is thought to have been a Portuguese merchant ship which may have been blown up by a rival ship.

A coat of arms found on a bottle on the ship has led marine archaeologists to believe it was built by the Portuguese in the Philippines and used for trading in Chinese porcelain.

It was probably sunk in the early 1600s as it was sailing from China to the Indonesian city of Jakarta (then known as the Dutch outpost of Batavia), according to the director of the Malaysia's Department of Museums and Antiquities, Adi Taha.

The wreck was discovered last year by fishermen operating in the South China Sea, off the coast of Malaysia's Terengganu state.

The cargo was salvaged during a two-month expedition.

Some of the plates and vases carry the mark of Emperor Chenghua, who ruled from 1465 to 1487. Others show the mark of Emperor Chia-ching, who ruled from 1522 to 1566, Mr Adi said.

A long kris - a traditional Malay dagger said to be invested with magical powers to protect the wearer - was also salvaged from the wreck.

Historians hope the wreck will shed more light on the period when European powers fought for control of the lucrative trades in spices and porcelain.

"This is a rare discovery that will help us learn more about our region's heritage and history," Mr Adi told the Associated Press.

The Museums department will retain 30% of the artefacts for exhibition. The rest will probably be auctioned by the archaeological company which financed the salvage operation.

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