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Stone Anchor Stocks from a Shipwreck at Pawikan (Investigator) Shoal, Palawan Philippines

Stone Anchor Stocks from a Shipwreck at Pawikan (Investigator) Shoal, Palawan



Featured Artifact: Stone anchor stocks from a shipwreck found in Pawikan Shoal, also known as Investigator Shoal, west of Palawan Island. 


An anchor is one of the most primitive man-made device used to secure a vessel at sea from being driven away by the wind or tide. Even before and during the Bronze Age (c. 2500 – 7750 BCE), ancient people have already utilized massive stones with holes that served as their anchors.

 

Illustration of the development of ancient anchors. (from G. Kapitan, 1984)
Illustration of the development of ancient anchors. (from G. Kapitan, 1984)


The classical anchors were made of wood – including the shank, the arms, and the crown. The wooden anchors were utilized with either lead or stone anchor stocks. Stone stocks were characterized by symmetrical shapes and, as a rule, by a very regular surface that is often smooth. Ancient literature have already noted the use of classical anchors during the 7th Century BCE with anchor stock. 


Features of stone-stocked anchors can be recognized from the pictures of ancient Greek, Apollonia Pontica coins from the 3rd – 2nd Century BCE. The coin features an anchor shank with two beams and arms fixed to an adjacent beam. 


Features of an ancient anchor resemblance in Greek, Apollonia Pontica coin.
Features of an ancient anchor resemblance in Greek, Apollonia Pontica coin.


Ancient anchors mostly compose of two flukes, a shank, and stock. It serves a double purpose, the first is to ensure that the anchor shall fall on the ground in such a position that one of the digging planes or palms will function as soon as the chain begins to drag along the ground. Another purpose is by lying flat on the ground, it keeps the palm set at the correct angle as it buries itself. 


Illustration on parts of an ancient wooden anchor with anchor stock. (from G. Kapitan 1984)
Illustration on parts of an ancient wooden anchor with anchor stock. (from G. Kapitan 1984)



In 1990 and 1991, the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) in collaboration with World Wide First (WWF) and the Searover System Inc., conducted a shipwreck excavation at Pawikan (Investigator) Shoal, the southernmost atoll of the Kalayaan Group of Islands. The site lies on top of the shoal at a depth of 3 – 4 meters.  Information about the site came from a Filipino fisherman in 1989 who recovered about 200 pieces of Chinese ceramics. 


The site was extensively damaged from dynamite fishing or looting. The excavations recovered Chinese celadon and Qingbai ceramics in the form of cups, bowls, saucers, and plates as well as stonewares jars. 


The Chinese ceramics have been dated to the 13th century CE during the southern Sung dynasty period (1127-1279 CE). There were also glass beads, iron concretions, wood fragments, though no hull remains were found. One jar was filled with 54 kilograms of bronze rings hidden under a layer of tea.  Approximately 3,000 pieces of 10-cm diameter bronze rings were collected at the site. 


Among the significant artifacts found were two intact and a fragment of stone anchor stocks. These were approximately two (2) meters long and 40 centimeters wide. The body is more or less symmetrical and slightly tapered from the middle. It has a groove in the middle where a bobbin of a wooden anchor had been possibly gripped. These features were typical of an anchor stock used for wooden anchors in medieval Chinese merchant ships. Similar anchor stocks were found in Han Tiep, Vietnam, the Jepara shipwreck in Java, Indonesia and in a garden of a private house in the village of Uken, Japan. The anchor stocks date to the 12th – 13th centuries CE, indicating a vibrant maritime commercial network between China and East and Southeast Asian states. 


Archaeological study is very important in supporting accurate interpretation of past events, which helps in reconstructing our history. When a site is disturbed or pilfered, we lose information forever without the significant context to assist us in piecing together our story. This is much more valuable than the selfish individual’s monetary gain or enriching their personal collections. Our heritage and recounting its narrative through material culture benefits future generations and our aspirations as a nation. If you see or have knowledge of sites being looted, report to your local government authorities immediately or contact the closest NMP office near you.



Text and poster by Nero M. Austero | NMP MUCHD

©National Museum of the Philippines (2021)



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