The expression ‘gone fishing’ generally implies hunting for fish, but in one area of Sumatra it means hunting for gold. The word ‘Sumatra’ translate to ‘Island of Gold’ – a name it earns because of its numerous gold mines -- but those are underground. Why are some fisherpersons fishing for gold in the Musi River near Palembang? They believe they’ve found Srivijaya – Sumatra’s lost Kingdom of Gold.
“In the last five years, extraordinary stuff has been coming up. Coins of all periods, gold and Buddhist statues, gems, all the kinds of things that you might read about in Sinbad the Sailor and think it was made up. It’s actually real.”
Dr. Sean Kingsley, a British maritime archaeologist, tells The Guardian of the ancient treasures being found for several years in the Musi River near what is now Palembang but was once the heart of the Srivijayan empire. From the 7th to 13th century CE, Srivijaya was a major maritime trading center of the Malay Archipelago – a kind of maritime Silk Road -- and a primary driver of the spread of Buddhism from the 7th to the 12th century AD. Located at the confluence of the Java Sea, the South China Sea and the Musi River, Kinglsey calls Srivijaya a “Waterworld” of boats carrying goods, traders exchanging them, and leaders and the rich merchants accumulating vast quantities of gold, jewels and the like. And then … it disappeared.
“Why the kingdom collapsed is unknown. Kingsley speculates that it may have been Asia’s answer to Pompeii, falling victim to Indonesia’s bubbling volcanoes. “Or did the fast-silting, unruly river swallow the city whole?”
Neither The Guardian nor Kinglsey can explain the demise of the Srivijayan empire, but it was believed the Kingdom of Gold took its riches with it, because searches have been ongoing for centuries with no luck. That is … until the Musi River fishermen began finding bits and pieces – weapons, bronze and gold Buddhist figurines, bronze temple door-knockers, bronze monks’ bells, gold ceremonial rings studded with rubies, gold sword handles, bronze mirrors, earrings, gold necklace beads and more remains of an ancient merchant aristocracy. (Photos here.) Kinglsey rushed to study the artifacts, knowing that many have already been sold on the black market. Despite Sumatra being the Island of Gold, DNA India reports that many of the recovered items like fine tableware and religious icons were imported from India, Persia, and China.
“They are lost to the world. Vast swathes, including a stunning lifesize 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.”
Dr. Kinsley is publishing his findings in Wreckwatch magazine in hopes that archeologists can be brought in to conduct official excavations and preserve the artifacts of Srivijaya. Without that, the final chapter of the history of the Kingdom of Gold will sleep with the fishes.