Lost sunken city of gold and jewelry found in Indonesian river mud
Night divers on Indonesia’s Musi River begin to fish for handfuls of gold, gems, and other treasure in the mud – and it could be the site of a legendary kingdom known in the 8th century as of “the golden island”.
Dr Sean Kingsley, a British maritime archaeologist, suspects that the finds, such as a life-size gold Buddha studded with rubies worth millions, represent the gradual rediscovery of a lost merchant palace in the kingdom of Svirijaya, who ruled the trade routes across much of Indonesia for 400 years.
Located around the town of Palembang, sometimes referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’, the palace town is said to have sat on a major artery of the maritime version of the Silk Road, and like its land counterparts in the towns of Qashqar , or Tashkent, is said to be at its peak with people of all faiths and skin colors.
Previous diving expeditions led by Australian archaeologists have recovered pristine collections of ceramics preserved in the mud of the river, representing an impressive number of cultures, including all the great medieval powers of Asia, and even the Dutch, the British and the Portuguese.
But now the treasures from the River Musi have a more legendary quality: Dr Kingsley picks up the tale when he spoke with Dalya Alberge at The Guardian about her upcoming feature on the Lost City in Wreckwatch Magazine.
“Shallows have surfaced glittering gold and jewels worthy of this richest kingdom – everything from tools of trade and weapons of war to relics of religion. From lost temples and places of worship appeared Buddhist figurines in bronze and gold, bronze temple knockers bearing the demonic face of Kala, in Hindu legend the mythical head of Rahu who stirred the oceans to make an elixir of it. ‘immortality. The bronze monk’s bells and gold ceremonial rings are studded with rubies and adorned with four-pointed golden vajra scepters, the Hindu symbol of lightning, the deity’s weapon of choice.
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“Exquisite gold sword handles are said to have adorned the sides of royal courtesans, while bronze mirrors and hundreds of gold rings, many of which are stamped with enigmatic letters, numbers and symbols, ringlets of ears and gold pearl necklaces resuscitate the splendor of a merchant aristocracy going about their daily business, stamping shipping manifests, in the palace complex. “
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The image is of a city on wooden stringers but covered with golden decorations, floating on the river like a solid gold water lily. All around there would have been hundreds of boats piled high with luxury goods of all kinds, piloted by traders as far west as Turkey, and as far north as Korea. It would have been as breathtaking a sight as the great tent cities of the Mongol Empire.
Its disappearance is not detailed in any history, nor known by archeology. The prevalence of volcanic activity in Indonesia could offer a similar explanation to that of Pompeii, while it is also possible that riverine activity engulfed the city during a flood or mudslide.
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Kingsley is hopeful that a full-scale official search will begin immediately.
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