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Watch as secrets of the Ming Dynasty emerge from a watery grave.
When a treasure-filled 500-year-old trading vessel was discovered recently in the waters off the coast of Borneo, a new picture of the Ming Dynasty in Asia rose to the surface. The divers didn’t find gold or silver or jewels, but a cache of over 2,000 jars and 3,000 pieces of beautiful porcelain.
Before the discovery of this spectacular time capsule, historians pieced together history from entombed luxury objects and museum artifacts—not everyday items. Now these recently discovered plates, pitchers and jars are helping to paint a more detailed picture of a culture.
Travel down 200 feet and back 500 years to a time when the East flourished in a golden age of culture and trade. Examine beautiful blue-and-white porcelain plates, cups and pitchers, and learn the surprisingly sophisticated methods devised to create these objects of tremendous purity and translucence. Explore the vital trade waters sailed by junks between China and other countries in Southeast Asia including the powerful Islamic monarchy of Brunei. Discover how China’s technological superiority helped expand its empire. And piece together the fascinating details of a vanished commercial empire, the beginning of today’s global economy.
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At the time when Europeans were first encountering the New World, skilled navigators and traders on the other side of the world were plying the South China Sea, carrying cargo that, as this documentary notes, Columbus could only dream about. In this episode of Nova, the wreck of a large Chinese junk discovered near Brunei is explored by divers, and its cargo is brought to the surface and examined by a team of experts on porcelain and other trade goods. What emerges from a jumble of dishes and clay pots strewn about in the mud on the ocean floor is a surprising portrait of life in Asia in the 1400s. Not many artifacts of ordinary life are known to have survived from that time, but the wrecked ship happened to contain a wealth of cargo destined for markets where it would be bought by common people. In fact, the temporary lab used by archaeologists began to resemble an ancient bazaar, with scores of clay pots and stacks of dishes piled high. As one would expect from a Nova episode, the cinematography (especially the underwater footage) is excellent, and interviews with scientists and art historians demonstrate how the jumble of material found under the sea can be interpreted to provide a wealth of knowledge. --Robert J. McNamara
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