20 Jan 2022

Thursday, 7pm


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This webinar is free. Slots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Two historical shipwrecks:
Powerful links to Singapore’s past

Remarkably, the first ancient shipwreck ever found in Singapore waters is contemporary with 14th-century Temasek. An excavation carried out in stages over four years resulted in the recovery of approximately 4.4 tonnes of ceramics, mostly shards, and a handful of non-ceramic artefacts. While none of the ship’s structure has survived, circumstantial evidence, including an exclusive Chinese cargo and an absence of non-Chinese artefacts, suggests that the ship was a Chinese junk. She contained more Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain than any other documented shipwreck in the world. From an analysis of this rare and important cargo component, the wreck probably dates between 1340 and 1371. Given the location of the site, the many parallel finds from Singapore terrestrial sites, and – importantly – a common dearth of large blue-and-white plates, it seems that the ancient port of Temasek (Singapore), was the most likely destination.

The second shipwreck has been identified as the Shah Muncher, an Indian-built, European-designed Country Ship operating under license to the British East India Company. Every year from 1790 she voyaged from Bombay to Canton with a primary cargo of cotton, and returned with sugar, zinc, and porcelain. But on 8 January 1796, carrying the heaviest cargo she had ever loaded, the Shah Muncher was forced upon rocks by the current. Approximately 5 tonnes of Chinese ceramics were recovered, with many pieces intact. There was also a wide range of other artefacts: zinc ingots, bottles, glass beads, and agate medallions. Parts of the ship’s hull were found, along with rigging, rudder fittings, copper sheathing, cannons, and anchors. The Shah Muncher sank 23 years before Raffles established Singapore as a British port. Nonetheless, her cargo provides insights into the types of goods that were purchased by Singapore’s fledgling community, along with those that would have been transhipped at the new port.








Michael Flecker has overseen some of the most important shipwreck excavations in Asia over the past 30 years. They include the 9th-century Belitung (Tang), 12th-century Flying Fish, 13th-century Java Sea, 14th-century Temasek, 15th-century Bakau, ca 1608 Binh Thuan, ca 1690 Vung Tau, and the 1796 Shah Muncher. He earned his PhD at the National University of Singapore based on the excavation of the 10th-century Intan Wreck. As a maritime archaeologist specialising in ancient Asian ship construction and maritime trade, Flecker has been a Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute repeatedly since 2015. He has been directing shipwreck excavations in Singapore waters on behalf of the National Heritage Board since 2016.








John N. Miksic was born in Rochester, New York, in 1946. He received his BA from Dartmouth College, MA from Ohio University, and PhD from Cornell University based on archaeological fieldwork in Sumatra. He spent four years in Malaysia as a Peace Corps Volunteer, two years as a Rural Development Advisor in Bengkulu, and taught at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, for six years. In 1987 he moved to the National University of Singapore, where he is emeritus professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Department. He is also a senior research fellow at the School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University. He received the title of Kanjeng Raden Harya Temenggung from the Susuhunan of Surakarta (Indonesia). His book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea won the inaugural award for best book on Singapore history in 2017.


Michael Ng_photo






Michael Ng has been involved in both terrestrial and underwater archaeological projects in Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Australia, and Jordan since 2009. In 2014, he joined the Archaeology Unit at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute as a Research Officer, and has been involved in the NSC Archaeological Field School as field instructor and project manager from 2015 to 2018. Apart from participating in fieldwork, Michael organises archaeology outreach programmes for educational institutions in Singapore. Michael’s research interests include Southeast Asian archaeology and history; in particular, maritime and coastal archaeology, military history and archaeology, public archaeology, trade ceramics, and mollusc ecofacts. Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree with the Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Programme.


Conan Cheong






Conan Cheong is Curator for Southeast Asia at ACM, specialising in Buddhist and Hindu art. He received an MA in Art History and Archaeology under the Alphawood Scholarships at SOAS University of London in 2018. At ACM since 2013, he most recently curated Living with Ink: The Collection of Dr Tan Tsze Chor (2019) and Fashionable in Asia (2021).



Image: Detail of blue-and-white vessel excavated from 14th-century shipwreck found in Singapore waters, ACM and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute PB1-E16-B086-001



ACMtalks brings leading scholars in conversation with curators at ACM to explore our core curatorial themes: Maritime Trade, Faith & Belief, and Materials & Design. These lectures and discussions will illuminate aspects of the museum’s collection strengths in export art and sacred objects, as well as Asian fashion and textiles, lacquer and silver, jewellery, and ceramics. Webinars take place on the third Thursday of every month, from 7 to 8 pm, Singapore Standard Time (UTC+08).


ACMtalks is supported by Kris Foundation
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Kris Foundation is a non-profit initiative set up in 2009 by Kris Tan. The Foundation is dedicated to empowering young classical musicians in Singapore and the region through its scholarships, support of arts organisations and signature concert series.