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400-YO Shipwreck Reopens Ancient Chapters in India’s Global Trade Saga

The ship, about 100-metres-long and 50-metres-wide, had sunk about 12 metres below the surface. Divers found remains of Indian spices, peppercorns and cowrie shells in it.

Archaeologists in Portugal have discovered a 400-year-old sunken ship off the coast of Cascais near Lisbon which provides evidence about the flourishing trade between Portugal and India back in the day.

The remains of Indian spices were found among the many valuable wares and trade items in the shipwreck.

Portugal has a long history of trade with India—we have all been privy to this information since school thanks to our history textbooks—and their impressions still find relevance in the country. For example, the Coromandel Coast, which bears a fascinating story involving the Portuguese and the British.

Jorge Freire, the director of the archaeological project, said, “From a heritage perspective, this is the discovery of the decade. In Portugal, this is the most important find of all time.”

Source: Cascais City Hall.

The ship, about 100-metres-long and 50-metres-wide, had sunk about 12 metres below the surface. Divers found remains of Indian spices, peppercorns and cowrie shells— used as currency in West Africa and for the slave trade in the shipwreck. The discovery of Chinese porcelain, another item in high demand at the time—has helped experts set a tentative date to the ship.

The porcelain belonged to the Chinese Wanli period between 1573 and 1619. Also found were some of the ship’s bronze cannons, engraved with the Portuguese coat of arms and the armillary sphere that are still featured in the Portuguese flag.

“We found the ship on 4 September, using a geophysical survey and divers, and spent four days working on the site,” said Freire, adding that

“We don’t know the name of the ship, but it’s a Portuguese ship from the late 16th or early 17th century…

Representative image of a Portuguese ship in the 16th century. Source: Commons Wikimedia.

It tells us a great deal about Cascais’s maritime history and identity. It’s like we’ve been telling the local people here—this is a great discovery, and its greatness lies in what it, and the artefacts, can tell us about the cultural landscape.”


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Discoveries of ancient ruins and wrecks, like these, are instrumental in bringing hidden mysteries, buried in the pages of history, to light. They can also promote tourism opportunities like in the case of Bheemunipatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

While records of India’s trade with foreign countries exist, some secrets have only been uncovered very recently. Did you know, for example, that an ancient Indian script that vanished from India is still preserved in Japan? Or that there is a deep connection between Kozhikode, Kerala and China?

Discoveries like these force us to ask—how much of history do we really know?

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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