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Treasure from wreck off Indonesia to go on sale

JAKARTA-- Ancient treasure worth an estimated US$80 million dollars which was found in a ship that sank off Indonesia 1,000 years ago is up for sale again, the head of the excavation team said Monday.

The “Cirebon treasure” was discovered in a wreck off the port of Cirebon on Indonesia's Java island and contains about 250,000 precious objects, including crystal, pearls and gold.

“(The haul) is certainly the largest ever found in Southeast Asia in terms of both quality and quantity,” Luc Heymans, the Belgian director of Cosmix Underwater Research Ltd., the Dubai-based firm that excavated the find, told AFP in an email.

The treasure was recovered from the wreck of a merchant ship — nationality unknown — that dates back to about A.D. 960 and was first spotted by Indonesian fishermen 57 meters (187 feet) under the sea.

It took some 22,000 dives between April 2004 and October 2005 to excavate the find, which was privately funded under an agreement with Indonesian authorities.

The treasure shows objects being traded between the Far and Middle East, including carved rock and crystal typical of the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, Mesopotamian drinking glasses, pearls from the Gulf, bronze and gold from Malaysia and exquisite Chinese imperial porcelain.

After six years of red tape, the excavators finally gained permission to sell the treasure, although some of it was given to the Indonesian government.

It failed to find a buyer at an auction in Indonesia in May 2010, when organizers estimated its worth at US$80 million (60 million euros), but has now been exported to Singapore, the region's trade and financial hub.

The riches will be sold there “in a single batch so that a slice of history can be presented in its entirety as it deserves in a renowned museum,” Heymans said.

It will be a direct sale and not by auction.

For Indonesia, this is the “first underwater archaeological excavation that is 100 percent legal, reconciling the preservation of heritage with the financial viability of this kind of operation,” Heymans said.

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