Belanankan (Blanakan) Ming Jiajing Shipwreck

On 5 May 2010,The Jakarta Post reported the recovery of  over 12,400 items of  Chinese ceramics from a ship wreck  about 50 km from Belanakan  in Subang, West Java.   They were believed to originate from the Ming dynasty era.   The ship was about  50 m x 20 m and lies 58 meters under the surface of Java Sea.  The blue and white wares consisted of  plates, bowls, jars and vases .  About 40 percent of the recovered items are still in good condition. 

According to the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry's director general for surveillance and control, Aji Sularso, he said that : ""Given the large size of the cargo, we predict that we need to dive for a year to secure all of its precious loads, which may amount to 1 million pieces; larger than the number of items secured from the shipwreck in Cirebon ...... It is predicted to be a cargo ship sunken somewhere in 1,600s... Archaeologists believe, from the blue motives of the white ceramics, that they originate from the Ming dynasty,"


From what I have gathered so far, the exact number of ceramics is not clear but at least more than 350.000 pieces. The bulk of the blue and white wares are from Jingdezhen. However, there appear to be some big plates which could be of Swatow (Zhangzhou) origin.

Some big plates which could be of Zhangzhou origin

Some of the pieces have also appeared in the Jakarta antique market.  I have seen some broken jars with birds and floral motif similar to the below piece. 


Blue and white Jar with bird/floral motif from Belanakan wreck

Two Ming shipwrecks with confirmed sunken dates are particular useful and instructive for dating the Belanakan wreck.  The Ming Jiajing San Sebastian wreck, situated near the sea in Fort San Sebastian in Moçambique was dated to 1554 A.D.  The Ming Wanli San Diego wreck, situated near the Fortune island in Batangas province in the Philippines was dated to 1600 A.D.  Overall, we can see that the colour tone of the cobalt has changed.  Those from the San Sebastian wreck show a purplish blue or more grayish purplish blue tone.  By 1600 A.D, the overall colour tone is generally a more silvery or grayish blue.  In terms of the colour tone, those from the Belanakan wreck are more akin to those from the San Sebastian wreck.  Stylistically, the motifs found on the blue and white wares on the Belanakan wreck are also more similar to those from the San Sebastian wreck.  So far, no Ming Wanli kraak style blue and white wares has been found in the Belanakan wreck.  Hence, the Belanakan wreck can be dated to the 2nd half of 16th Century and very likely towards the late Jiajing period.

Examples from San Sebastian wreck

Examples from the San Diego wreck

Some examples from the Belanakan wreck are shown below.

Examples from the Belanakan wreck

In the wreck, there are also bowls with an unglaze ring on the interior and exterior wall decorated with bold calligraphic strokes floral motif.  Usually, such bowls are attributed as of provincial origin.  I have come across some interesting sherds which were recovered from the outskirt of Jingdezhen.  They are made earlier than Ming Jiajing but share some similiar features to those from the Belanakan wreck.  Hence, the actual place of manufacture of such bowls from the wreck warrants further investigation.

Example of "provincial looking" bowl from Belanakan wreck

Example recovered from the outskirt of Jingdezhen


Written by: NK Koh (28 Oct 2013)


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