Arqueonautas Worldwide (AWW) initiated its archaeological activities in Indonesia during 2007. The country’s geographical conditions, an archipelago with 17,508 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited, with territorial waters covering an enormous area in one of the most navigated regions of the world, including the ancient Southeast Asia maritime trade routes, means that Indonesia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) is extremely important in an archaeological context, but also tremendously complex to protect and manage.
AWW’s archaeological survey expeditions in the Bangka-Belitung province were the first large scale remote sensing electronic surveys ever conducted in the country. The marine archaeological survey and assessment took place over five seasons (2007-11) and a total of 25 historical wrecks were found, surveyed and assessed. Of these 25 wreck sites, only one was found undisturbed, five where slightly disturbed, two had been excavated and the remaining 18 were heavily disturbed and no longer had any archaeological context whatsoever. Looting and trawling were the most probable causes of such a high level of destruction of UCH sites. A Management Recommendations report on these wreck sites was delivered to the governmental authorities, hoping that this contribution could trigger an action plan to mitigate the alarming rate of UCH being lost and to help preserve this important legacy from the past, for future generations.
Upon request by the respective license holders, AWW also conducted archaeological assessment missions in the Java province, at the Honghzi and the Wanli wreck sites, both in the Java Sea. In particular, the Wanli wreck site is of great significance due to the huge shipment of Ming porcelain from the Wanli period that it carried on board. According to the assessment done, the cargo of this vessel consisted of over 500,000 pieces of Ming porcelain, making it the largest consignment of Ming porcelain ever found. The evidence found on site suggests that this shipwreck could be a Chinese junk, making the wreck site even more interesting in archaeological terms, as not much is known about the Chinese trade ships of that period.
AWW’s efforts to contribute to the protection and management of UCH in Indonesia involved the training of personnel from the Ministry of Culture in the operation of electronic survey equipment, specifically on the deployment of a magnetometer and respective data interpretation. A set of electronic survey equipment (magnetometer) was also donated. Our team leaders and archaeologists also participated in several symposiums and conferences related to the protection of UCH and the management of these resources and gave lectures at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta and the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta.
AWW’s archaeological field work in the country, provided precious insight on the very difficult reality of UCH’s protection and management in Indonesia. This heritage is facing imminent threats from extremely organised looting networks, destructive fish trawling methods and an inefficient legal framework that only serves to promote the continued destruction of such an important UCH legacy in this part of the world.