Wednesday 26 October 2011
Source: The Telegraph.
The wreck of a Mongolian ship presumed to have been part of a 13th century invasion fleet has been discovered beneath the seabed off southern Japan.
The vessel is the first of its kind to have been discovered relatively intact and dates from a series of attempts by Kublai Khan, emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, to subjugate Japan between 1274 and 1281.
Researchers have previously only been able to recover anchor stones and cannonballs from the scattered wrecks of the Mongol fleets and they believe that this latest find will shed new light on the maritime technology of the day.
The warship was located with ultrasonic equipment about 1 meter beneath the seabed at a depth of 20 meters. The archaeological team, from Okinawa’s University of the Ryukus, had been carrying out a search of the waters around Takashima Island, in Nagasaki Prefecture, because the area had yielded other items from Mongol ships.
The Mongol invasions of Japan of 1274 and 1281 were major military efforts undertaken by Kublai Khan to conquer the Japanese islands after the submission of Goryeo (Korea) to vassaldom. Despite their ultimate failure, the invasion attempts are of major historical importance, because they set a limit on Mongol expansion, and rank as nation-defining events in Japanese history. The Japanese were successful, in part because the Mongols lost up to 75% of their troops and supplies both times on the ocean as a result of major storms. The invasions are referred to in many works of fiction, and are the earliest events for which the word kamikaze, or “divine wind”, is widely used. With the exception of the occupation of Japan at the end of World War II, these failed invasion attempts are the closest Japan has come to being conquered by foreign power in the last 1500 years.
Historical records suggest that some 4,400 ships carrying 140,000 Mongol soldiers landed in Japan in 1281 and skirmished with samurai in northern Kyushu. But after returning to their boats, the fleet was struck by a devastating typhoon (kamizake) that put an end to the invasion plans.
The researchers believe the boats tried to find shelter in the coves of northern Kyushu, an assumption borne out by the discovery by Professor Yoshifumi Ikeda’s team. Related Articles
«I believe we will be able to understand more about shipbuilding skills at the time, as well as the actual situation of exchanges in East Asia», Ikeda told reporters in Nagasaki on Monday. He added that more research remains to be done, but he is also considering raising the wreck and putting it on public display.
A section of the ship’s hull was first found last year but a full archaeological excavation only began on September 30.
The researchers uncovered a keel nearly 15 meters long and more than 50 cm wide. Lengths of wood planking were still buried beneath silt alongside the main spars, they said. The planks were as much as 20 cm wide and nearly 10 cm thick and were still coated in a grey paint. The planks had been held in place by nails and more than 300 bricks that were used as ballast were located throughout the site, along with ink stones and shards of Chinese ceramics.
The archaeologists have also recovered weapons and identified the remains of the ship’s ribs and bulkheads.
The mast and upper structures have been lost, the researchers said, but historians are marvelling at the discovery of the first near-complete pre-medieval wooden ship in Japan.