Sumatran fishermen found the treasure of the Golden Island

On the island of Sumatra, known as Golden Island, the site of a legendary Indonesian kingdom famous for its golden treasures has finally been discovered.

Fishermen exploring the crocodile-infested Musi River near Palembang unearthed a stunning treasure trove of gems, gold ceremonial rings, coins and bronze bells from the depths.

One of the most incredible finds is a life-size, gem-encrusted statue of Buddha from the eighth century, estimated to be worth millions of pounds.

The artifacts date back to the Srivijaya civilization, a powerful kingdom between the seventh and thirteenth centuries that mysteriously disappeared a century later.

Dr. Sean Kingsley, a British maritime archaeologist, said: “Great explorers have hunted Srivijaya to the farthest reaches of Thailand and India, but all to no avail.

Even at Palembang, the traditional site of the vanished kingdom, archaeologists could not find enough pottery to boast the discovery of even a small village.” Srivijaya, the last mighty lost kingdom on earth, is jealously guarding its secrets.”

He added: “Extraordinary things have been found in the last five years. Coins from all periods, gold and Buddhist statues, precious stones, everything you might have read about in Sinbad the Sailor and thought it was fiction. In fact, it’s reality.”

In ancient times, Sumatra was called the Golden Island because it was rich in gold deposits and natural resources, and was an early point of trade to Southeast Asia.

The sixth and seventh centuries saw a steady increase in Asian maritime trade, and a huge Chinese market opened up.

The growing demand for Buddhist rituals, in particular, led to an increase in Indonesian exports to China.

Dr. Kingsley said: “In addition to the stunning finds of gold and jewels, tons of Chinese coins and even more sunken pottery have been discovered in the riverbed.

The pots and pans show what kind of people lived in Srivijaya. Goods were imported from India, Persia and a mass of the finest tableware of that era from the great furnaces of China. It was at this time that the first blue and white porcelain tableware was made and became the best brand in the world.”

He reported on his research in the fall issue of Wreckwatch magazine, which he also edits. Srivijayan’s research is part of a 180-page fall publication on China and the Maritime Silk Road.

He wrote: “From the shallows surfaced the gleaming gold and jewels befitting this richest of kingdoms – everything from tools of trade and weapons of war to relics of religion.

Bronze and gold Buddhist figurines emerged from lost temples and places of worship, bronze temple doorbells with the demonic face of Kala, in Hindu legend the mythical head of Rahu, who stirred the oceans to make the elixir of immortality.

The monks’ bronze 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 favorite weapon.

Exquisite gold sword handles adorned the sides of royal courtesans, while bronze mirrors and hundreds of gold rings, many decorated with mysterious letters, numbers and symbols, earrings and gold beads around the neck bring back memories of the splendor of the merchant aristocracy, engaged in their daily business, stamping shipping bills in the palace complex.”

Dr. Kingsley described Srivijaya as a “water world” where people lived on the river. He believes that when civilization came to an end in the 14th century, their “wooden houses, palaces, and temples sank along with all their possessions.”

In its heyday, Srivijaya controlled the arteries of the Maritime Silk Road, a huge marketplace where local, Chinese, and Arab goods were traded.

He said: ‘While the western Mediterranean world was entering the dark ages in the eighth century, one of the world’s greatest kingdoms erupted on to the map of south-east Asia.

‘For over 300 years, the rulers of Srivijaya mastered the trade routes between the Middle East and imperial China.

‘Srivijaya became the international crossroads for the finest produce of the age. Its rulers accumulated legendary wealth.’

The size of the population’s kingdom remains unclear.

Dr Kingsley told MailOnline: ‘I’ve not seen any robust stats for the population of Srivijaya. They didn’t do a census sadly.

‘The travellers of the age say the kingdom was “very numerous”. Chroniclers wrote that Srivijaya had so many islands, nobody knew where its limits ended.

‘The fact that the capital alone had 20,000 soldiers, 1,000 monks and 800 money lenders gives you an idea that the population was impressive.

‘Look at the size of the great pilgrimage centre of Borobudur, which was paid for out of the king of Srivijaya’s golden vaults.

‘In the 10th century, the population of eastern Java was 3-4 million people. And Java is smaller than Sumatra where Palembang, the capital of Srivijaya, has turned up.

It is also not clear why the kingdom collapsed. Kingsley wonders if it suffered the same fate as Pompeii – the result of a volcanic catastrophe – ‘or did the fast-silting, unruly river swallow the city whole?’, he speculates.

Aside from the night dives carried out by the local fishing crews, there have been no official excavations, which leaves many questions unanswered, the Guardian reported.

The artefacts found so far are being sold to antique dealers before they can be properly examined by experts.

‘They are lost to the world. Vast swathes, including a stunning life-size Buddhist statue adorned with precious gems, have been lost to the international antiquities market. Newly discovered, the story of the rise and fall of Srivijaya is dying anew without being told.’

The research is covered in the autumn issue of Wreckwatch magazine.

What was the lost civilisation of Srivijaya?

The Srivijaya empire was a maritime kingdom that flourished between the 7th and the 13th centuries, in what we know today as Indonesia.It originated in Palembang on the island of Sumatra but went on to extend its influence and controlled the Strait of Malacca.

As it expanded, it gave rise to a federation of kingdoms that served as vassals, sending tributes and taxes – controlled by the military.
The empire was effectively divided into three zones: one area centred on the capital, the second on estuary cities, and a third on hinterlands for agricultural goods.

Srivijaya’s power was based on its control of international sea trade. It established trade relations not only with the states in the Malay Archipelago but also with China and India. The empire is believed to have controlled sea access from China – whose goods, such as silk and paper, were in high demand.

Shipbuilding was vital for trade, fishing etc – and the empire’s ships were very fast. Srivijaya also had a navy, which it needed to keep a monopoly on trade routes.

The kingdom was also a religious centre in the region. It adhered to Mahayana Buddhism and soon became the stopping point for Chinese Buddhist pilgrims on their way to India.

By the year 1000, it controlled most of Java, but it soon lost it to Chola, an Indian maritime and commercial kingdom that found Srivijaya to be an obstacle on the sea route between South and East Asia. In 1025, Chola seized Palembang, captured the king and carried off his treasures, and also attacked other parts of the kingdom.

By the end of the 12th century Srivijaya had been reduced to a small kingdom, and its dominant role in Sumatra had been taken by Malayu (based in Jambi), a vassal of Java.

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