Season 1, Episode 7

Arthur C. Clarke’s Treasure Ship

Author, screenwriter, inventor. Arthur C. Clarke is renowned for his more than 70 books exploring the endless wonders of space and science fiction. Lesser known is his passion for undersea adventures. In fact, his love of scuba diving was one of the main reasons he moved from his native England in 1956 to settle in Sri Lanka for the rest of his life.

Clarke and his friends dived all around the island. But one site stands out. Ten miles off the southeast coast, a lighthouse warned passing ships of a treacherous 40 km coral reef below. The Great Basses reef was inaccessible for most of the year, but divers who ventured into its clear waters between the monsoons found a fairyland of caves, grottos, and colorful sea life. And as Clarke was to discover, the reef harbored something even more fantastic: a shipwreck with treasure. 

As he writes in two books, Clarke and his friends explore and excavate the wreck, its artifacts and a hefty treasure of Mughal-era silver coins. They attempt to piece together the history of the ship and its precious cargo. “Underwater archaeology is like a detective story,” Clarke writes. We journey with him on this mystery and also ask, to whom does found treasure belong? 

Time Markers (min:sec)

  • 00:04 Please wear your headphones
  • 00:15 Prologue
  • 05:09 Chapter 1, Treasure Under the Sea
  • 14:59 Chapter 2, Mysteries of the Ship
  • 21:11 Chapter 3, More Silver to the U.S.
  • 25:23 Chapter 4, Legacy of Great Basses
  • 28:49 Chapter 5, Treasure or Booty?
  • 35:26 Ending Credits
Arthur C. Clarke's Treasure Ship

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Reading List

Bernstein, Jeremy. Out of the Ego Chamber. The New Yorker, Aug. 9, 1969.

Clarke, Arthur C. Ceylon and the Underwater Archaeologist. Expedition, Spring 1964.

Clarke, Arthur C. The Treasure of the Great Reef. New York: Harper & Row. 1964

Devendra, Somasiri and Muthucumarana, Rasika. Maritime Archaeology and Sri Lanka: Globalization, Immigration, and Transformation in the Underwater Archaeological Record. Historical Archaeology, 2013, Vol. 47, No. 1, Globalization, Immigration, Transformation (2013), pp. 50-65. Springer.

Haider, Najaf. Minting Technology in Mughal India. In Shailendra Bhandare and Sanjay Garg (eds.), Felicitas: Essays in Numismatics, Epigraphy and History in Honour of Joe Cribb. Reesha Books International, 2011. 

Haider, Najaf. The Network of Monetary Exchange in the Indian Ocean Trade: 1200–1700. In Himanshu Prabha Ray and Edward Alpers (eds.), Cross Currents and Community Networks: The History of the Indian Ocean World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Haider, Najaf. Precious Metal Flows and Currency Circulation in the Mughal Empire. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 39, No. 3, Money in the Orient. (1996), pp. 298-364. Brill. 

Knecht, Robert. Arthur C. Clarke: Before 2001. Documentary, 1993. 22 minutes. Director:

Robert Lewis Knecht. Writers: Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Lewis Knecht.

Lawler, Andrew. Seafaring in Ancient Sri Lanka. Archaeology, November/December 2014, Vol. 67, No. 6, pp. 42-47. Archaeological Institute of America.

Muthucumarana, R., Gaur, A. S., Chandraratne, W. M., Manders, M., Rao, B.

Ramlingeswara, Bhushan, Ravi, Khedekar, V. D. and A. M. A. Dayananda. An Early Historic Assemblage Offshore of Godawaya, Sri Lanka: Evidence for Early Regional Seafaring in South Asia. Journal of Maritime Archaeology, June 2014, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 41-58. Springer.

Muthucumarana, Rasika and Thanthilage, Arjuna. The Missing Crafts of Sri Lankan Waters.

Maritime Archaeology Unit, Central Cultural Fund, Fort Galle, Sri Lanka.

Muthucumarana, Rasika. Recently Discovered Shipwrecks in Sri Lankan Waters. Current Science, December 2019.

Pawn Stars. Shocking Chum. Jan. 25, 2010. Season 2, Episode 3. 21 minutes. Writers: Brian Greene and Greg Volk. Starring: Corey Harrison, Richard Harrison and Rick Harrison.

Throckmorton, Peter. The Great Basses Wreck. Expedition, Spring 1964.

Wijegunaratne, Admiral (Retd) Ravindra C. Protecting Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb’s Silver Coin Ship. The Island, Aug. 29, 2020. 

Wilson, Mike, in cooperation with The Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board. Beneath the Seas of Ceylon. Documentary, 1958. 20 minutes. Written, produced and photographed by Mike Wilson.

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