Last week's illustrated lecture by Sidmouth Society of Arts was hosted by Professor Marie Conte-Helm talking about 'Sunken Treasures of the East.'

Marie is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts told tales of oriental shipwreck porcelain, whilst keeping us safely on terra firma. She began by pointing out that the Silk Road was not just an overland trade route but also included a series of sea routes which formed part of a combined network extending over 4,000 miles.

She said: "Goods were traded in both directions, east to west and west to east. Silk was, of course, the major product traded, but tea, textiles , spices and above all porcelain constituted a major part of ships' cargoes, not forgetting that significant cultural interchange took place, including religious interaction between Buddhism and Islam Chinese porcelain was produced for the Imperial Court and the elite in society, and it was the import of cobalt from Persia that gave makers the chance to develop the famous cobalt blue underglaze patterns that decorated the shiny white porcelain.

"By the fourteenth century, the finest examples of blue-white porcelain were being traded across the seas to south east Asia in huge quantities, and unlike other wares that did not survive shipwrecks, because of their fragility, high fired ceramics did. Of the 130 shipwreck sites around south east Asia many have been explored and their porcelain cargoes brought to the surface. The cargo of the Nanking that sank in 1752 was recovered in 1985.  It contained 150,000 pieces of porcelain, including complete table services, all of which were sold at auction in Amsterdam. Other auction houses in London and Munich have seen collections fetching millions of dollars. As deep sea recovery technology has improved even sunken ships themselves have been brought to the surface and preserved and displayed in purpose built museums.

"The UNESCO convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage sites continues to be an important initiative in preserving the rights of individual countries over the shipwrecks in their waters. We can only conjecture at what new finds will be discovered and what further light they will shed on east-west trade."

"The White Mantle Of Winter - Impressionist Snow Paintings" will be the next Sidmouth Arts Society lecture in the Manor Pavilion at 10.30 on 29 November.