In June 2021, important pieces to our history were uncovered from two shipwrecks in Singapore’s eastern waters — the first to be found in our waters.
Excavations by the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and National Heritage Board have been ongoing in the area since 2015, when several ceramic plates were discovered by accident. And they have yielded a treasure trove of artefacts.
The first shipwreck possibly dates back to the 14th century when Singapore was known as Temasek. Dishes, bowls and other wares, including those from the Yuan dynasty, were uncovered here. It also saw the biggest haul of blue-and-white porcelain from any documented shipwreck in the world! These artefacts are puzzle pieces to Singapore’s history, as researchers found that they are very similar to previous finds at Empress Place and Fort Canning. Who were trading them here? What currencies were used? Where were they meant to go?
The second shipwreck likely dates to the 18th century. It yielded Chinese ceramics, figurines, and even instruments — everyday objects that would have been traded by people living in this area at the time. How were they used? Why were there animal figurines? What sort of food and drink might’ve been served on these plates and cups? The excavation also uncovered anchors and nine cannons, which were typically mounted on merchant ships by the East India Company in the 18th/early 19th centuries.
While the objects are themselves fascinating, what is even more so are questions they pose, and the insights they offer into Singapore’s place in the maritime crossroads of the east and west. With 700 years of history behind us, there is still much to piece together about who we were. And indeed how we flourished, met the challenges we faced, and, eventually, got to where we are today.