During the months of July and August 2004 I had the unique experience of participating in the recovery and recording of timbers from the obliterated fleet of Kubilia Khan at Takashima Island, Japan. As a student of the nautical program at Texas A&M, I was extremely interested in the past and present excavations of the timbers, as well as the recording and documentation of evidence that could help elucidate the shipbuilding practices of 13th century East Asia. Randall Sasaki, a close friend and fellow student, invited me to join the project, which is the subject of a large portion of his nautical research at A&M. I was excited to be able to partake in such an important undertaking at the time, but upon my return my appreciation of the project has increased exponentially.Working at this site in Japan was a wonderful experience that I fully intend to repeat.
Our days on Takashima Island were systematic and efficient. Every morning the members of the Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology and the Kunitomi professional dive crew met at 8:00 am to prepare dive equipment for the day. We arrived at the site around 8:30, and began the first dive around 10 am. Each member of the team dived twice per day, approximately 30 minutes each. In this way, a considerable amount of work was completed. We had about 12 divers, which allowed for a fair amount of underwater archaeology every day. The first 2 weeks consisted primarily of dredging the site in order to reveal the timbers and other artifacts associated with the fleet. Approximately one and a half meters of sand/silt was removed before the timbers appeared. Subsequently, archaeological excavation and documentation began.
Part of my time on Takashima Island was spent recording the timbers of the fleet, which were submerged in large vats at the conservation lab located near the museum which houses artifacts from the ongoing excavations. The recording of the timbers began with 1:1 drawings of the wood on clear plastic sheets. Next, the timbers were traced in detail on paper, then scanned into a computer and entered into a database, along with the measurements of the recorded components. The database stores extensive recordings of a variety of timbers, and will one day be a powerful tool for analyzing the construction of the Mongol ships.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Kenzo Hiyashida, who graciously allowed me to participate in the excavation of the site, and learn from him and the crew involved in the project. Although communication with the participants was limited, I learned a great deal about the methods that were used by the Japanese team of archaeologists. The crew was extremely helpful and accommodating to a foreigner who knew little of their culture or scientific techniques.
The recovery of the artifacts from this amazing archaeological site is an ongoing operation that has yielded a remarkable quantity of data that will bring to light the shipbuilding agenda of the era in which Kubilia Khan attempted to invade the island of Takashima in AD 1281. The evidence for ship construction gained from this project will contribute greatly to our knowledge of seafaring history of East Asia in the 13th century and is a promising objective for present and future nautical archaeologists.
Thank You very much for your help in Takashima, George.
and thanks also for writing this report.