The long-awaited work to unravel the history of a Chinese vessel that sank in Kenyan waters more than 600 years ago is set to begin with the arrival of Chinese archaeologists.
The national museums of China and Kenya have organised a joint archaeological dig on and around Lamu islands, where one of Chinese navigator Zheng He’s ships is believed to have sunk in the 15th Century.
National Museums of Kenya assistant director in charge of Coast region Athman Hussein said archaeologists from the two countries expected to get the wrecks of the fleet of the legendary Zheng.
He said the experts would conduct both terrestrial and underwater archaeology and use the data to try and understand the weather patterns which could have led to the mishap.
There are strong linkages
“Under-water archaeology is a complex venture that requires massive logistical arrangements and the team will be looking at the type of equipment and personnel that will be employed for the work.
“The three-year project, funded by China’s Ministry of Commerce, will explore Kenya’s coasts around Malindi Town and the Lamu Archipelago, where there are still strong linkages with Chinese history,” said Mr Hussein.
He said the work would include examination of the many forms of Chinese porcelain that had been unearthed.
“Archaeologists from the two countries will be working for two months every year for the stipulated number of years starting this year.”
The NMK official said the Chinese team would be headed by Mr Zhang Wei, vice-president of the National Museums of China and Mr Zhao Jiabin, the director of underwater archaeology of that country.
Some of the activities leading to the excavation include the training of some Kenyans in underwater archaeology, a complex field that Kenya did not have experts in in the past.
The Lamu Island is one of the key points Zheng’s fleet is believed to have passed through before capsizing in 1415.
Since 2005, the Chinese Government has been dispatching teams of experts to the island after records confirmed the exact location of the capsized legendary Chinese ship, which has been lying on the ocean floor for years.
Chinese archaeologists believe the project will shed new light on China’s trading history.
Zheng commanded the Ming dynasty’s merchant fleet of hundreds of ships to Kenya twice in the 15th Century.
Married local girls
Many people believe one of his ships sank around the Lamu Archipelago. The sailors then stayed on the archipelago, married locals and taught them farming and fishing.
Archaeological excavations have also proved the existence of Chinese descendants on the archipelago.
As a result of the Chinese connection with Lamu and specifically Siyu on Patte Island, there has been a lot of movement over the years by Chinese historians and tourists to learn more about the 15th Century history.
One of the beneficiaries of the close linkages is Mwamaka Sheriff, a young woman who is currently studying Chinese medicine at Nanjing University on a scholarship from the Chinese Government.
Her family was directly linked to the Chinese sailors who survived the tragedy and intermarried with the locals.