On preparation day at the Vietnam Underwater Archaeology Training, the teams are spread throughout the Bach Dang Hotel lobby and restaurant writing up reports for all the projects we worked on in the last four weeks. We’ve had time to work on quite a few projects in four weeks, both underwater and on land: it’ll take the Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi a while to read through all of them. Thankfully they will only receive group reports, not individual reports for the 30+ participants who’ve come to Hoi An from all over Southeast Asia as well as Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, the US and Japan.
VUAT has certainly kept us busy. We go diving at Cu Lao Cham island two or three days a week and spend the other days working on land projects; Sunday is lecture day. At Cu Lao Cham, we’ve worked on several sites, including a stone anchor site, an unidentified assemblage of ceramics, and a potential shipwreck site. We spent a few days recording the stone anchor, one team used photogrammetry to produce a 3D model of the anchor. The assemblage of ceramics was found very close to the shore, in less than one meter of water. In such shallow water, we could do the baseline-offset recording without diving, which to my great delight meant no wetsuits! Of course, I got a wicked sunburn and spent the rest of the trip being called X-Man by my team leader because of the bright white cross on my bright red back. Once we had the baseline-offset technique down in 50cm of water, we applied it to the potential shipwreck site at 2m depth. Like the previous site, this site is really an assemblage of ceramics. Unlike the previous site, the ceramics found here clearly came from the same place. That, the sheer amount of ceramics we found, and the fact that some of them were stacked, lead us to believe this is what is left of a shipwreck. Dr Le Thi Lien of the Institute of Archaeology was able to identify it as a 16th or 17th century Cham ship built locally. As it is close to shore, in shallow water, and there are no complete ceramics, we suspect the site has been visited by the local fishermen. In any case, we set a 30m baseline and used 1mx1m frames to measure, describe and photograph the ceramics.
The land projects aimed to give us a better understanding of maritime history in the region. We visited 17th century Japanese graves, worked with shipwreck ceramics at the Hoi An Center of Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation, and learned about traditional boat building. We visited a couple boat yards and talked to the fishermen and shipwrights working there, then measured and photographed the boats. There are three types of boats in Hoi An: large European-style fishing boats, táu, smaller traditional fishing boats, ghe, and even smaller basket boats, thuyền thúng. My favourite land project however was talking to Xa Lan, a fisherman living in Cu Lao Cham.
We visited Xa Lan at the beginning of week 3; it took us a while to get him to tell us about things he’d found underwater but eventually he opened up and had a lot to say. A lot. He is very frustrated that there are no funds available to study the history of Cu Lao Cham, so when we told him about our project he was happy to tell us all about what he’d seen and found while free diving for crustaceans and mollusks. He talked about a French shipwreck, lead ingots weighing up to 300kg, a heap of bricks lying 120 meters off shore, and two separate anchor sites. On Wednesday, we picked him up on speedboat so he could show us all the sites. A lot of the sites were quite deep and while Xa Lan can free dive to 50 meters, most of our divers aren’t allowed to go past 9m so we couldn’t investigate most of the sites. We sent some divers to look at the French shipwreck site even though Xa Lan warned us that the locals had picked it clean and there would not be anything left. He was right. In the end, none of the sites we were able to send divers to check out turned up anything but we still have the deeper sites to investigate!
Participating in the Vietnam Underwater Archaeology Training has been an incredible experience. Aside from the practical skills I’ve acquired, I’ve met the most interesting and talented people, whom I really hope to continue working with in the future. Each week we’ve had presentation from participants about maritime archaeology in their countries; exciting things are happening in Southeast Asia and I for one want to be involved.