Construction workers in Hebei, northern China, have found what local authorities suspect is a sunken merchant ship from the Yuan dynasty.

Workers found the remnants of the wooden structure while building bridge supports on Sunday, according to a staff member at Xingtai City’s cultural relics management office speaking to the Beijing Youth Daily.

Photo: Screenshots/Beijing Youth Daily video.

Construction on the bridge was halted as local police sealed off the area. They are now guarding it around the clock.

The structure was found three to four metres below the riverbed of the Fuyang river, and was covered by layers of sediment, according to an unnamed archaeologist from the cultural relics management office.

The office told the paper that only a small part of the structure had been uncovered, and that they would need to clear the sediment before they can ascertain whether it is indeed a ship and determine its date. But based on the curvature of the wooden planks and the fact that it was found in a riverbed, experts at the office were confident.

Besides the wooden structure, a water jar, 12 pieces of whole pottery, and several pottery shards were found, according to the staff member.

“[T]he excavation area is all silt, [meaning] there is no way to determine its date based on soil layers, but we can determine based on the characteristics of the pottery that these relics should be from the Yuan dynasty,” the archaeologist said.

“Although, currently, the entire structure has not been entirely excavated, we’ve noticed that the exposed wooden material has a certain degree of curvature – taken together with its position in the riverbed, the preliminary judgment is that the remains are a commercial vessel that sank in the Fuyang river during the Yuan dynasty.”

Onlookers at the site. Photo: Screenshot/Beijing Youth Daily.

The Yuan dynasty lasted from 1279-1368, when the Mongols ruled over China.

The archaeologist said a bridge that local residents were using was deemed unsafe, leading the county to fund the construction of a new bridge.

“This is usually underwater – it only resurfaced because of this construction project,” they said.

They added that only three metres of the structure had been exposed so far, and that no human remains had been found yet.

According to Pingxiang county’s WeChat account, police are investigating reports that some relics were taken away from the site before the area was sealed off by authorities.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.