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Kanduli Shoal Shipwreck Royal Captain Shoal near Palawan Island Philippines [Archeology]

Kanduli Shoal Shipwreck Royal Captain Shoal near Palawan Island Philippines [Archeology]

While the National Museum of the Philippines' team and the French team of underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio were conducting electronic surveys in 1985 for the search of the British East Indiaman vessel Royal Captain, the presence of a much older cargo was accidentally found hidden in a coral structure. The materials were dated to the 16th to 17th centuries CE, roughly 200 years older than Royal Captain.

Kanduli Shoal Shipwreck Royal Captain Shoal near Palawan Island Philippines [Archeology]
The excavation site of the Kanduli (Royal Captain) Junk.


The site of this second wreck was named Kanduli (Royal Captain) Shoal Shipwreck and lies at 4-5 meters deep on top of the shoal, which is technically a coral atoll. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, island, or series of islets and normally surrounds a body of water called a lagoon. A shoal on the other hand, is a natural submerged ridge, bank, or bar that consists of, or is covered by, sand or other unconsolidated material, and rises from the bed of a body of water to near the surface. They are also known as sandbanks, sandbars, or gravelbars.

Kanduli Shoal Shipwreck Royal Captain Shoal near Palawan Island Philippines [Archeology]
Some porcelains and jar found on the 16th century Kanduli (Royal Captain) Junk site.

The archaeological materials recovered from the wreck included Chinese blue-and-white porcelains, monochrome porcelains, bronze gongs, glass beads, iron ingots, earthenware, stoneware jars, and some bone fragments inside the jars. The porcelains comprising of plates, saucers, bowls, cups, boxes, bottles, and jarlets were identified as Zhangzhou wares produced in the region of Fujian Province, China. 

Kanduli Shoal Shipwreck Royal Captain Shoal near Palawan Island Philippines [Archeology]
Map by Franck Goddio showing the location of the Kanduli Shoal (then identified as Royal Captain Shoal), China (inset), and Borneo.

The glass beads characteristics particularly the wound type suggest a Chinese origin. Similar types have also been found in the terrestrial sites in Bolinao, Pangasinan; Calatagan, Batangas; Porac, Pampanga, and in Sta. Ana, Manila which were dated from 14th to 16th centuries.

There were no wooden remains found on the site. This may be because the wreck was on a shallow site, making it exposed to natural elements and human activity which hastened its deterioration. Despite this, the Kanduli Shoal Shipwreck was believed to be an Asian vessel as indicated by the nature of the recovered materials. 

The investigators believed that the vessel engaged in Southeast Asian intra-regional trade, possibly covering the Borneo to Manila route. The vessel may have been on its way to Borneo from China when it struck the uncharted atoll during the northeast monsoon that sealed its fate. 

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.

Bronze gongs found in the Kanduli shoal shipwreck 

Bronze gongs found in the Kanduli shoal shipwreck
The green discoloration on the surface of the gong is called patina, a natural protective coating formed from the oxidation (or other chemical process) of copper. On the right figure, two holes can be seen on the rim, probably for insertion of string or cord for suspension.

The shipwreck was excavated in 1985 by the combined efforts of #NationalMuseumPH and World Wide First, Inc. (WWF). The materials recovered were dated from the 16th to 17th centuries Common Era (CE).

Gongs are among the oldest and most important metal musical instruments in Southeast Asia. The origin of gongs is uncertain, although Chinese literature mentioned its introduction in China as early as the 6th century CE. The term “gong”, which is exactly the sound it makes, originated in Java, Indonesia, one of the major gong production centers. 

The excavation site of Kanduli shoal shipwreck
The excavation site of Kanduli shoal shipwreck. Photo by Franck Goddio.

Aside from its musical significance, gongs are also used as signals, like the function of bells in the West. In the past, gongs were considered a symbol of high status, and a highly valued tradeware that can be passed on through generations. 

Gongs are not all the same. These percussion instruments come in different sizes, shapes, and styles that vary across cultures and locations. Gongs are mostly made of bronze (copper and tin alloy) or brass (copper and zinc alloy), with some traces of other metals like iron and nickel. Manufacturing techniques require skilled craftsmanship that not only focus on the aesthetics of the instrument, but also on the quality of sound produced. 

Some gongs are suspended vertically while others are placed on cushions or on the ground. They can be played rhythmically using the hands, or by striking with mallets or sticks.

Exploration at the excavation site of Kanduli shoal shipwreck
Exploration at the excavation site of Kanduli shoal shipwreck. Photo by Franck Goddio.

The bronze gongs recovered from the Kanduli shoal shipwreck are bossed-type with a six-point star pattern around the boss or knob at the center. Two small holes were drilled on the narrow rim, probably to allow for insertion of a suspension string. In Mindanao, various kulintang sets are also designed with star patterns around the boss, although more intricately.

The presence of these gongs in the Kanduli shoal shipwreck supports the assumption that the cargo was destined for trade in Borneo as their ethnic groups were known to use these gongs for ritual purposes.

According to Antonio Pigafetta’s account in 1521, he saw a young girl tapping two bronze gongs during his visit with the Spanish naval fleet led by Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu Island. He also saw four gongs in a private house in Mindanao, where a Chinese junk regularly traded. This further shows the Philippines’ involvement in the gong trade market during that period.

Learn more about the story of other Philippine maritime underwater sites at the National Museum of the Philippines


Text and Poster by Rachelle Ureta/ NMP MUCHD

Photos © Franck Goddio, Christoph Gerigk

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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