Two 500-Year-Old Shipwrecks Found in South China Sea

Under 1,500 meters of seawater off the Chinese coast, a mother lode of artifacts lurked for centuries. But the find couldn’t hide forever from China’s increasing interest in deep-sea archaeology.

A submersible found the two shipwrecks on the South China Sea floor late last year. Researchers are now picking through what remains of the ships, which date to the Ming Dynasty. Inside and around them, a bevy of relics lie scattered and stacked.

porcelain urns on the seafloor

Porcelain urns, pots, and vases cover the two sites. Photo: NCHA


Porcelain urns and processed timbers likely number in the hundreds of thousands at the site, according to China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA). One expert advised The Global Times that the timbers likely came from southeast Asia, and could be used to erect buildings “like the palace of the emperor.”

a pile of timbers on the seafloor under green light

Processed logs for Ming Dynasty construction. Photo: NCHA


The ships sailed midway through the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The “No. 1” wreck dates to the time of Emperor Zhengde (1506-1521), and the No. 2 wreck predates it to the reign of Emperor Hongzhi (1488-1505). They lie on the sea floor just 20km apart.

They were also headed in different directions along the Maritime Silk Road, the NCHA found. The wrecks could offer insight into that route, less famous than the land-based  Silk Road but still important.

Officials have sanctioned plans for further research at the two sites through April 2024. The plan’s ultimate goal is site preservation, according to the NCHA.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.