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Ancient Trade Routes

Santa Cruz Junk

The Story

The trade between China and South-East Asia reached its peak during the Ming Dynasty in the first half of the 15th century, when the Chinese emperors were engaged in expansionist activities. From the middle of the 15th century onwards, however, China began to isolate itself and private overseas trade was banned. Despite the threat of death penalty for smuggling, illegal trade continued to flourish. The Santa Cruz junk was lost during this period of time.

The Discovery

The Santa Cruz junk was discovered by surprise in April 2001 by dynamite fishermen who found pieces of porcelain in their nets and started to dive for the valuable cargo. Several fishermen died or were injured because of their insufficient diving experience. The National Museum of the Philippines became aware of the discovery when historical artefacts started to appear in antique shops. They decided to perform an archaeological excavation on the wreck in cooperation with Franck Goddio and his team as soon as possible in order to stop the plundering and destruction of the wreck.


The wreck itself is one of the best preserved junks ever found, with an important part of the hull still intact. The junk is 25 metres long and 5.8 metres at the beam. Careful studies of the remaining naval architecture have been carried out. One of the most interesting results of the study - which has been supported by wood identifications performed on numerous samples taken from the remains - is that there is clear evidence that this ship was built in the Philippines. Due to the extent of the vessel’s preservation, the archaeologists have also been able to understand how the ship was loaded and what kind of goods were stored in its different parts and compartments.

Two and a half months and innumerable dives were necessary to bring approximately 15,000 artefacts to the surface, which date from the time of the Ming Dynasty (Hongzhu Period) and to study the naval architectural. 11,500 pieces of the cargo are porcelain or ceramic of excellent quality and in perfect condition, including very rare artefacts such as water-droppers modelled as mandarin ducks or writing pads made of porcelain.

But the Santa Cruz junk doesn’t only answer the question of how junks were packed in the 15th century, where it sank also provides evidence of an unusual trading route that couldn’t be confirmed before. It also demonstrates that the inhabitants of the northern Philippines were rich enough to afford the finest quality china. Archaeologists had previously assumed that in that particular part of the Philippines, a market existed only for cheap ceramics and not for more expensive items.

Once all of the artefacts were carefully excavated, the wreck of the Santa Cruz was covered by mud and sand in order to protect it and save it from further destruction.

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