Stakes point to Vietnam’s glorious victory

Maritime archaeologists from Flinders University hope to shed new light on a fierce 13th century battle fought by the Vietnamese against the invading fleet of China’s emperor Kublai Khan.

A recent visit to Vietnam by Associate Professor Mark Staniforth and Flinders PhD student Jun Kimura viewed areas that still contain the remnants of the pointed stakes that were fixed into the riverbed and along the banks by the Dai Viet defenders.

Vietnamese general Tran Hung Dao defended the mouth and lower reaches of the Bach Dang River, which at the time connected the coast with the capital of Hanoi, by filling expanses of the estuary with the stakes, with the aim of holing or trapping Chinese vessels as the tide fell.

Associate Professor Staniforth said that he and Jun Kimura are keen to be involved in fieldwork that will map the extent and shape of the stake fields, in a bid to provide insights into the Dai Viet strategy and the likely course of the battle. Their work may also point to the likely location of the wrecks of Chinese ships.

With a view to setting up the proposed project for 2009, Associate Professor Staniforth discussed possible collaborations in Vietnam with Dr James Delgado, the CEO and President of the US-based Institute for Nautical Archaeology (INA). Jun Kimura has made initial contact with Vietnamese government’s Institute of Archaeology seeking their collaboration in the project.

Contemporary accounts of the battle in 1288 relate that large numbers of a massive fleet of Chinese junks were destroyed. Even allowing for exaggeration by the victors, the battle was decisive, and Associate Professor Staniforth said that once the dimensions of the stake fields have been fixed, there is a good possibility that remote sensing techniques may be used to find wrecked Chinese vessels.

While in Vietnam, Associate Professor Staniforth and Jun Kimura also assisted in an INA project, initiated by INA research associate Randall Sasaki, to record and assess a pair of historic anchors. Locals retrieved the seagoing anchor and mooring anchor, both made of wood and reinforced with iron and rope, from the Red River near Hanoi.

Associate Professor Staniforth said that the state of preservation and comparisons with other examples and historical drawings suggests that the anchors date from the 18th or 19th centuries rather than the medieval period, but that carbon dating would settle the matter.

Maritime archaeology is offered as an undergraduate degree at Flinders, and its postgraduate courses increasingly attracts students from Europe, North America and Asia.

Posted in
International News Research Students Uncategorized