Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 18 News List

New submarine discoveries spark interest in submerged cities

Once dismissed by experts as folklore, the release of photographic and documentary evidence pointing to the possibility of prehistoric human settlements off the coast of Penghu has experts re-examining theories about the legendary continent of Mudalu

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Image of the wall that has spark a host of theories ranging from extraterrestrial civilization to unusual volcanic activity.

PHOTO COURTESY OF UAI

What began this summer as a search for a legendary underwater town off the coast of Penghu by members of the Underwater Archeological Institute (UAI, 中華水下考古學會) made headlines earlier this week -- but for unexpected reasons.

The expedition failed to locate the town they were searching for, but in late July, the group instead stumbled, or rather swam across, a 100m-long wall-like structure 28m beneath the murky waters of the archipelago's Hsichi (西吉島) and Tungchi (東吉島) islets.

Measuring 50cm in width, one meter in height and 100m in length and positioned on an east-west axis, the mysterious underwater edifice might not have been what the team was searching for, but the find has still managed to stoke imaginations across the nation.

The public was so enthralled with the news that after Public Television Service (PTS, 公共電視台) broadcast a documentary charting the discovery of the wall, it was inundated with calls from the general public even before the program's final credits had come to halt.

"It was a huge surprise. Scores of people called in wanting more information and a longer, more in-depth show [about the wall]," said Ke Chin-yuan (柯金源), PTS news assignment editor. "Because the existence of such things in Taiwan is not mentioned in history books, is not common knowledge and is rarely, if ever, the topic of TV a documentary, the program sparked a huge amount of interest."

Home to roughly one thousand predominantly elderly civilians and a coast guard detachment, the Hsichi and Tungchi islets -- which together have a land mass of less than two-square kilometers and no paved roads -- were, until earlier this week, Taiwan's most forgotten outposts.

I told you so

The rest of Taiwan may have been awe struck by the find, but the island's residents remained blase about the events that took place on their doorstep. They've been trying to get people to believe in stories of sunken cities for years.

"The stories are part of Penghu's unwritten history. I've known of other such structures in the area since the late 1970s. But it was in 1992 that I first began to hear stories of a submerged town and the possibilities of an entire temple somewhere in the area," recalled expedition leader, Steve Shieh (謝新曦), who also heads up the UAI. "While sounding pretty outlandish, the stories came from people I know and respect. These are not crackpots. Finding the wall was a complete accident, however, as we didn't know about its existence at all."

Regardless of the stir it has caused, the recent find is not the first such discovery to take place in Taiwan's territorial waters. In 1982, a Japanese research team discovered a 100m-long cross-like structure in waters off of Penghu's Hujing Island (虎井島). Since then three other underwater wall-like structures have been pinpointed by independent underwater survey teams.

Widespread acceptance of the recent expedition's findings owes a lot to the fact that it is the first such expedition to receive assistance from the nation's only official marine archeological team -- the National Museum of History's Marine Archeology Team (NMHMAT, 國立歷史博物館台澎水下考古小組) -- in order to search for what are considered by many academics as purely legendary sites.

Formed in 1995 to excavate the scattered remains of a Chinese Qianlong (乾隆) period (1736-1796) vessel which was posthumously named, General No. 1 (將軍一號) after Penghu's General Islet (將軍嶼) where it was discovered by fishermen in 1994, the team comprises deep-sea divers, anthropologists and archeologists and is funded by the Ministry of Education (教育部).

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