Why in news?
Government of India decided to establish the first National Maritime Heritage Museum at Lothal, a Harappan site on the Saurashtra coast in Gujarat.
What is purpose of Maritime museum?
The museum will act as an independent research center for archaeology of boat building, reconstruction of maritime history and materials traded. It will hold display of salvaged materials from shipwreck sites in Indian Ocean waters. Lothal Maritime Heritage Complex once completed, will showcase the maritime strength of ancient India.
Museum depicts the 5000-year history of India’s rich maritime heritage. Right from the days of Lothal, the earliest known dockyard of the world, to the modern-day technological prowess.
Lothal is the site of one of the oldest ports in India dating to the Bronze Age which corresponds to Indus Valley Civilization. It was discovered in 1954 by the ASI. The site is important as the irrigation tank of the city was used as a dock in ancient times. Also, the city was a part of a major river system on the trade route. India has requested UNESCO to add Lothal into the lists of UNESCO Heritage sites. The requisition is yet to receive approval.
Lothal was the first tidal dockyard built by the Harappans. It was the warehouse of cotton, rice and wheat growing hinterland. The Harappans exported agricultural and marine products and imported gemstones and metals used by the people in our domestic industries. Further evidence shows that there are signs of trade that were carried out between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia at that point. The Harappans had a deep understanding of engineering as they had created a hydraulic system at that time. It is said that the then dockyard could hold 30 ships of 60 tons each or 60 ships of 30 tons each.
What is Marine archeology and its significance?
Marine/Underwater archaeology is a specialized branch of archaeology that involves recovering submerged remains such as ports, shipwrecks and studying proxy records of maritime activity from archaeological excavations as well as archival and historical records. There are an estimated three million undiscovered shipwrecks lying on the ocean floor, according to the UNESCO. Between 1824 and 1962, over 12,000 sailing ships and war vessels were lost at sea. Many of them got wrecked in Indian coastal waters.
India has vast potential with its rich maritime history. The archaeological evidence from South East Asia and Persian Gulf say that Indian maritime voyagers ventured into eastern and western seas even before 4000 years ago.
Studying sunken ships could also fill the gaps in India’s maritime history and trade links with other countries. Some shipwrecks are of great of historical importance, such as P&O Liner Indus which carried the Buddhist sculptures of Bharhut stupa and is known to have sunk in 1882 to the seabed of Sri Lankan waters.