Never before had such a ship been discovered, a sewn-plank vessel from the western Indian Ocean. Prior knowledge of the ships that carried the rich goods of the Maritime Silk Route between the Near East and Far East was limited to obscure textual allusions, a few iconographic images, and very sparse archaeological evidence.
By referencing more recent ethnographic evidence, certain characteristics that might have appeared in ancient ships could be inferred, but without the ships themselves there was no definitive way of knowing. Surprisingly, the Belitung wreck revealed construction techniques and design features extant in recent Omani traditional vessels. Some reliance could undoubtedly be placed on the use of ethnographic evidence.
On the wreck site, parts of the stem, keel, keelson, floors, frames, beams, beam shelf, and nearly all of the planking of one side from the middle of the ship forward were present. Clearly, this wreck would be invaluable and was to provide new and definitive information. But the archaeological evidence could not supply all the information that was required to design and build the reconstruction. Other sources had to be considered, such as historical texts, iconography, and ethnographic information, as well as even more indirect evidence.
The discovery and excavation of the wreck site is described in detail elsewhere, but what could be learned from reconstructing and sailing the ship on a long-distance passage from Oman to Singapore? What questions could be answered about the time required to build such a ship, as well as the construction procedure, processing of materials, organization of the workforce, and design and performance of the final product?