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Philippine archaeologists discover ancient shipwreck in disputed islands

June 10, 1997

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Philippine archaeologists have discovered granite stones from a tomb, cannons and other artifacts in an ancient shipwreck in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratly Islands.

In addition, nearly 5,000 Chinese and Thai porcelains have been recovered from a separate 15th century Chinese junk discovered off the western Philippine province of Palawan.

Archaeologists described both as important finds.

Eusebio Dizon, chief of the National Museum’s underwater archaeology department, said Tuesday that Filipino archaeologists and French divers, acting on a tip from fishermen, discovered a shipwreck on a coral reef about six miles off Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys.

A recovery team retrieved around 1,000 granite stones from a tomb, cannons and iron musket balls from the still unidentified wooden ship, found at a depth of 30 feet.

Some of the stones were engraved with what appeared to be Hindu markings and drawings of dancing women, according to a museum official who spoke on condition of anonymity. One stone was engraved with the numbers 1754, but it was unclear whether that referred to the date.

The stones may have been stolen from a tomb in Asia to be smuggled into Europe, Dizon said.

Pag-asa is the biggest of eight islands occupied by Philippine troops in the Spratlys, a chain of islands, atolls and reefs claimed by the Philippines, China and four other countries.

In the other find, museum officials said they have recovered nearly 5,000 prized porcelain plates, jars and bowls from a Chinese junk that sank four miles off Calauit Island at the northern tip of Palawan.

The artifacts were from the late Ming period during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Archaeologists are still trying to determine when the Chinese junk sank, but it is believed to be older than the Spanish galleons that plied the busy Manila-Acapulco trade route run by Spain in the 16th century.

Filipino archaeologists were led to the wreckage, lying on a shoal at a depth of 160 feet, by the coast guard, which found fishermen looting the site early this year.

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