Japanese Researchers Discover Medieval Mongol Shipwreck

  • Share
  • Read Later
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Kublai Khan, Mongol Emperor of China (circa 1216 -1294) and grandson of Genghis Khan. Marco Polo spent twenty years at his court. He moved the capital of China to Beijing (Peking) and founded the Yuan dynasty

When you think of Mongol invasions, you imagine a fearsome horde galloping across the steppe. You don’t think of hapless sailors clinging to the masts of their ships, cowering in fear at the fury of a churning sea.

But Japanese researchers using ultrasonic equipment claim to have found the wreckage of a Mongol ship, one of countless vessels that sank during two doomed invasion attempts in the 13th century. The scientists from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa say they’ve found a 12-meter-long section of a ship’s keel, which could have been as long as 20 meters. Though some 4,000 artifacts allegedly belonging to the smashed fleets have been recovered from the sea, this is the most complete archaeological find related to the invasions.

(PHOTOS: Explore the World of Kublai Khan)

In 1281, Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor who ruled a vast domain from his imperial seat in China, sought to bring the warlords of isolated Japan to heel. An earlier assault in 1274 made landfall and won a few victories before being pushed back by an alliance of samurai clans. Severe storms chased the remnants of the invading force away, but worse was to follow. Backed by the prayers conducted in all the great temples loyal to Kublai’s Yuan dynasty — rituals mandated by Kublai Khan — a new imperial armada set sail for Japan in 1281, carrying over 100,000 soldiers. But the expedition was met by the kamikaze, the divine wind, a typhoon, and the fleet sundered off Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.

The disaster has been immortalized in Japanese nationalist lore, and for centuries scared off rulers in Beijing from contemplating expansion across the seas. Whatever now gets raised from the ocean’s depth could bear with it stories many in China sought to forget.