Reuniting orphaned cargoes: Recovering cultural knowledge from salvaged and dispersed underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia

Martin Polkinghorne, Natalie Pearson, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Widya Nayati, Zainab Tahir, Nia Naelul Hasanah Ridwan, Craig Forrest, Noel Hidalgo Tan, Rachel Popelka-Filcoff, Catherine Morton, Jarrad Kowlessar, Mark Staniforth

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Southeast Asia, with Indonesia at its core, was the epicentre of the most extraordinary expansion of global trade ever witnessed along the Maritime Silk Route. But this story is incomplete because many objects of trade, and the shipwrecks from which they originated, were salvaged and dispersed without adequate archaeological recording of the details of their find-spots. This article critically assesses the prevailing legislative and ethical landscape of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) in Indonesia, delineating the underlying tensions between economic in- terests and scientific imperatives. Our consortium of experts and heritage authorities proposes a resolution through the ’Reuniting Orphaned Cargoes’ Project, which endeavours to re-establish the connection between two notable collections of Southeast Asian ceramics situated in Indonesia and Australia, tracing them back to the shipwrecks of their origins. Archaeological science can shed new light on the cultural significance of the two collections whilst also unveiling fresh insights into this defining epoch of world history. Moreover, this approach addresses unprovenienced UCH, and opens paths to implement and refine the operational guidelines of inter- national heritage conventions that govern it. By reconnecting relevant communities with objects of material cultural heritage that languish in institutional and private collections, this ambitious project builds capacity and utilises UCH for sustainable development in Indonesia, and across Southeast Asia. If these objectives are realised, the project will enrich our understandings of the past and secure the preservation of UCH for generations to come.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106074
Number of pages13
JournalMarine Policy
Early online date6 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Underwater Cultural Heritage
  • Maritime Silk Route
  • Indonesia
  • Archaeological Science
  • Heritage Management
  • Shipwrecks
  • Ceramics


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