The Sunken Treasures of Brunei Darussalam
The exhibition was hold in Paris in 2002 at the Conciergerie, on the banks of the River Seine, at the Medieveval castle where more than one thousand artifacts, borrowed from the bruneian museum are being displayed, in a setting which has been designed to recreate the extrordinary discovery of the shipwreck off the bruneian coast and the daunting task of bringing its treasure to the surface after half of a millenium.
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It has been five centuries since the great junk sank off the shore of Borneo, but it only a remotely-controlled underwater camera a few minutes for it to become a crucial part of our lives. On May 24 1997, a forest of ancient plates and jars - still stacked on top of one another in their shroud of slime - amazingly came into view on our video screen 68 meters above the seabed and in doing so opened a new dimension to our our existing knowledge of Asian maritime trade.
When the over loaded junk went down, in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, the human loss could only have been enormous, but the half-millenimum of silence that followed has miraculously transformed its cargo of pottery, fired in the kilns of China, Vietnam and Thailand, into an inestimable archaelogical gain. The experts’ report, made in October of the same year, confirmed the importance of the find and immediately sent out the cry for help - The Brunei shipwreck had to be protected and studied, as soon as possible.
And by the following January it had been decided, before it was too late, to make a methodical study of the cargo of the great vessel, lost deep under the sea in a cloud of liquid mud and far from land but - now that its secret was out - dangerously vulnerable to the professionnal treasure hunters who roam the waters of the region.
This daring project, led by the Bruneian and French governments and financed by the petrolleum company that discovered the wreck, got under way in May 1998 when a multi-disciplinary team set out to Brunei, composed of archaeologists, restorers, divers, artists and a team of specialists in areas ranging from ancient Chinese porcelain to the technical problems of underwater diving.
Its men and women were from countries as scattered as Brunei, France, Australia, New Zealand, India and Holland, but for three gruelling months they pitted their energy and skills, their dedication and their courage, to bring the sunken cargo to the surface. And in so doing the added their own story to the saga of the vessel, a story of scientists and scholars - and of all those who helped them reach their goal - who for several months relived the glorious days when Chenghua, Hongshi and Zhengde reigned over China while Portugal dreamed of Malacca and Magellan was fitting out the Victoria. Of course, this work is not comprehensive study of the Brunei shipwreck - it may take several years for us to digest the enormous amount of data that has accumulated.