TOKYO (majirox news) — For the first time in archaeological history, a 13th century Mongolian ship dating back to its two attacks on Japan in 1274 and 1281 has been found in the water off the city of Mastsurra in Nagasaki prefecture.
These attacks are often associated with the “Kamikaze,” a divine wind that supposedly rose to protect Japan against foreign invaders. To this day, Kamakura era bells are still hanging in Japanese monasteries to celebrate Japan’s deliverance from these attacks.
The ship, buried a meter under the sand, was discovered by Ikeda Takashi, professor of archaeology at Ryukyu University, may be one of the Mongolian fleet’s ships.
“We are currently mapping it,” he said. “From what we’ve discovered so far, we have a 50 centimeter (19.5 inches) thick keel that is 15 meters (49 feet) long and ship’s planking attached to it. The ship was probably a total length of 20 meters (60 feet).”
The ship lies in about 25 meters (82 feet) of water and surrounding it are Chinese pottery artifacts and other items identified as coming from the Yuan era (13th century). At present, underwater survey work is still going on at the bottom portion of the ship. No plans have yet been announced to try to move it to dry land. Further details about the wreck are due to be announced by Ikeda at a news conference scheduled for Oct. 24.
Japan successfully fought off the Mongols who by that time had established one of the largest empires in history, covering China, Korea, Russia and parts of the Middle East. The Yuan Dynasty in China, established by the Mongols lasted into the 1400s and was visited by Marco Polo.
One English language account gives a version of the Mongol attack: “Japanese (resistance) was successful, in part because the Mongols lost up to 75 percent of their troops and supplies both times on the ocean as a result of major storms … with the exception of WWII, these failed invasion attempts are the closest Japan has come to being conquered by a foreign power.”
However, there is a slight problem with this interpretation. If these ships sunk, where are the shipwrecks? With supposedly thousands of Mongol ships littering the bottom of Hakata Bay in Kyushu where the Mongolian invasion fleet made its landing, why haven’t any wrecks been found? Only a few small planks have been found before this discovery. Japanese historians have come to doubt the existence of a typhoon that destroyed the Mongolian invading fleet.
Japanese sources dating from that time mention no major storms during either the invasion of 1274 or 1281. By other accounts, there is also the story in Japanese history books that Japan was protected by the Gods, which was also used as WWII propaganda. It’s only since the war that historians have revised their views of the divine wind being raised by the Gods called “Kamikaze” sinking the Mongol fleet. However, historians believe this is probably an embellishment of later storm stories. Experts now believe the Mongols sent quick expeditions to “punish” Japan for not becoming a vassal of the Mongol empire, then withdrawing them of their own accord.
Given only primitive Kamakura-era navigation available to support journeys into the stormy North Pacific, it is hard to imagine that some of the ships did not go down in a local blow. Despite searches that have turned up anchors and some pieces of deck cabin wood, significant evidence of these maritime encounters has eluded underwater archaeologists. It appears now, however, that Ikeda has finally found a real treasure: solid evidence of the missing Mongol fleet.