The fishermen were diving at night and couldn’t be certain at first what they found in the River Musi’s mud.

As the dirt was washed away, the sun rose, the treasure’s amazing nature must have been revealed: gold and jewels from the once-richest and most powerful empire of South East Asia.

“[It’s]This is the kind of thing you might see in Sinbad The Sailor but think it was a joke. It’s really real,’ says Dr Sean Kingsley. A British marine archaeologist who has published a study on the finds in Wreckwatch’s online magazine: “From the shallows have emerged glittering gold, jewels befitting these richest of Kingdoms.”

Srivijaya is most likely the greatest empire you have never heard of. Also known as the Island of Gold and the floating kingdom, Srivijaya ruled Indonesia (and much of South East Asia for over 600 years.

It disappeared without trace in the 12th Century, much like the fictional Atlantis island, which Plato said was submerged under the Atlantic Ocean.

The location of Srivijaya’s treasures and even their exact location have remained a mystery until now.

Srivijaya is probably the greatest empire you've never heard of: known as the Island of Gold, the floating kingdom ruled Indonesia (and much of South East Asia) for more than 600 years. In the 12th century, it vanished without trace. Srivijaya's treasures, even its location, have remained a mystery... until now (Stock image)

Srivijaya is most likely the greatest empire you have never heard of. Also known as the Island of Gold and the floating kingdom, Srivijaya ruled Indonesia (and many other parts of South East Asia) for over 600 years. It disappeared without a trace in 12th century. Its location and treasures were a mystery to Srivijaya until now. (Stock image).

Lifesize 8th-century AD bronze Buddhist masterwork statue (Pictured), studded with precious gems, fished up from the River Musi, Sumatra, the site of the sunken kingdom of Srivijaya

Lifesize 8th century AD bronze Buddhist masterwork statue in bronze (Pictured), adorned with precious gems and fished from the River Musi, Sumatra. This is the site of Srivijaya’s sunken kingdom.

The treasures being rescued from River Musi, which is one of the world's most polluted rivers, and date back as far as the 8th century. Gold and ruby-studded jewellery (Pictured) is being found

The treasures being saved from River Musi, one of the most polluted waterways in the world, date back to the 8th Century. The treasures of gold and ruby-studded jewellery are being recovered (Pictured).

Five years ago, fishermen in Palembang on Sumatra, Indonesia, started to find the answers in the murky river bed of the River Musi.

Using crude and dangerous diving gear — and dodging the river’s crocodiles — they have hauled up buckets of mud containing glittering clues to the secrets of the Island of Gold.

These remarkable finds include gold jewellery and gemstones, a life-sized, gem studded statue of Buddha (estimated to be worth millions of dollars), as well as necklaces with gold beads and earrings.

Golden gem-set rings featuring claws, resembling those of birds — viewed as holy by the ancient civilisation — have also emerged. Gold sword hilts with pronged blades have also been made, adorned with the symbol of a sacred thunderbolt.

The treasures that were saved from one of the most polluted rivers on the planet date back to the 8th century.

Kingsley stated this week that ‘great explorers have searched high and low for Srivijaya, as far as Thailand and India. All with no luck.’ ‘Even at Palembang (the traditional location of the lost kingdom), archaeologists failed even to find enough pottery to boast even one small village. ‘Srivijaya has been jealously guarding its secrets as the last powerful lost kingdom on Earth.

Golden gem-set rings featuring claws, resembling those of birds ¿ viewed as holy by the ancient civilisation ¿ have also emerged (Pictured). So have gold sword hilts adorned with pronged sceptres, the symbol of a sacred thunderbolt

Golden gem-set rings featuring claws, resembling those of birds — viewed as holy by the ancient civilisation — have also emerged (Pictured). Also, gold sword hilts with pronged blades, the symbol for a sacred thunderbolt, have emerged.

Modern scholars have found Srivijaya difficult to find because it was a floating kingdom.

Only the palace of king and temples were built in the land, while ordinary people lived on floating houses made of bamboo and wood with thatched roofs.

They traveled in canoes that were lined with reeds. They could also move their homes by floating down the river if they wanted.

Srivijaya achieved such great success because it controlled the Great Silk Road’s trading routes.

Its maritime choke points were the route through which almost all of the world’s goods passed, from spices to slaves. According to a 10th-century historian, “One finds there the King Of The Isles, who commands an unlimited empire and has innumerable forces… No sovereign in this world draws so much from his land.”

Srivijaya was not only a maritime merchant with a huge fortune, but also had gold deposits along the Musi and Batang Hari rivers in Sumatra. This meant that its people were literally sitting on a golden mine.

The Empire’s silver and gold coins were stamped with the flower and word of the sandalwood, which it held a monopoly over, and the word “glory” in Sanskrit.

A handful of gold rings, beads and sandalwood gold coins (Pictured) of Srivijaya, fished up off the seabed in the River Musi, Palembang

A few gold rings, sandalwood gold coins, and beads (Pictured), of Srivijaya, taken from the riverbed in the River Musi.

Srivijaya was a link between China and Asia, as well as Persia (the West) and Persia (the East), with trade ties that extended as far as the Buddhists and the Islamic Caliphate. Over the centuries, Srivijayan navigators and sailors, traders, and sailors explored Borneo in the Indian Ocean, Thailand, Cambodia and the Bay of Bengal.

The capital had 20,000 troops, 1,000 monks, 800 money-lenders, as well as a centuries-long empire that allowed for a lavish lifestyle.

The Buddhist rulers of the kingdom wore bejewelled caps, drank wine made with fermented coconuts, honey, and flowers.

One writer said that among the grand palaces and temples were ‘parrots, red, yellow and white, which can also be taught Arabic, Persian, Greek, and Hindi; there are also green-speckled peacocks, and white falcons with red crests.

A servant of a king was forced to jump to his death into a burning fire to keep him company after his death.

But the golden age of Srivijaya’s water kingdom ended.

Piratey and raids by rival empires choked its maritime trading routes, including one by Indian Chola empire, which used the monsoon winds and sailed in to Sumatra to raid 14 ports, and then ransack the capital.

One historian claims that the Srivijaya kingdom was dissolved by rival Indonesian empires in 1025. By the 13th century, it had simply “ceased to exist”.

It was even forgotten in Indonesia. It was only rediscovered in 20th century, mostly by foreign academics. It was discovered by George Coedes, a French historian who discovered its name in ancient Chinese manuscripts.

Dr Kingsley states that there are several theories about Srivijaya’s disappearance and why so many gold coins have been discovered near Palembang.

“Did Indonesia’s bubbling volcanoes turn the kingdom’s palaces/temples/dwellings into some ‘Asian Pompei?’, he inquired. “Or did the river swallow the entire city?

The Srivijayans were likely to have had a fear for fire and a spiritual affinity towards water. This was in keeping with the tradition of the King of throwing gold bricks into the rivers.

Wreckwatch reports that this ancient treasure is being sold on to antiquities dealers in Indonesia today. Wreckwatch says that no formal excavations of the site has taken place. The fact that the objects were sold to fishermen without proper excavation means that experts cannot identify them and place them in historical context.

And so, the ancient civilisation of the Island of Gold is now at risk of disappearing once more — into the hands of shadowy, unscrupulous collectors around the globe.

“[The treasures]Dr Kingsley said that the world has lost these valuable resources. ‘Vast areas have been lost for the international antiquities marketplace. The story of Srivijaya’s rise and fall is being retold, but it is not yet known.

It will take a big international effort to ensure that any of the wonders of Srijivaya survive — and that its dazzling jewels and treasures do not vanish all over again.