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On Asiatic Sea Routes

In 2003 British archaeologists made an exciting discovery in Kuwait, when they came across a clay boat model dating back to 7000 years ago. This oldest evidence of sailing in the Mesopotamia region proves how old the tradition of making boat models in Asia is. Other important discoveries were made in other parts of the continent. In a tomb from the times of the Chinese Han dynasty of the 1st century AD a ceramic junk boat model was found, where we can see the first representation of a stern rudder known in history.

The story of the discoveries and also many other stories are told in the book “On Asiatic Sea Routes. Ship and Boat Models in the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw and donated by Andrzej Wawrzyniak to the Polish Maritime Museum in Gdańsk”. The book provides a broad historical and cultural background for the presentation of 52 models of boats and ships made in countries lying along the historical Asiatic sea routes, beginning with Maldives, through India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and concluding in China. Referring the models to their original prototypes, in their specific environment, and also historic, economic and technical context, enables one to understand their form and meaning. The materials used for the models are also very interesting, as we have here clove from the Maluku Islands on the Spice Islands, local rubber from Kalimantan and silver from Canton in China. It seems that despite their decorative purpose the models reflect many social, cultural and technical realities of their respective regions of origin.

The catalogue – richly illustrated with photographs, drawings and a map of historical Asiatic sea routes – also has a glossary of sailing terms, as well as the summary and list of objects in English. It also provides information about similar objects in exhibitions in Polish and foreign museums. The publication, which is a comprehensive source of information about many types of Asiatic boat and ship models, may be a very good starting point for further research in the field, which is an almost blank page within ethno-nautical science.

The book is a result of co-operation between the Polish Maritime Museum in Gdańsk and the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw. It is available for purchase at the Polish Maritime Museum shop at Ołowianka Island, on the Museum’s website at the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw.