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

"When Penghu was created by volcanic activity millions of years ago it is quite possible that lava flowed into rock beds and over the years became flat and wall-like," explained Tsao Nu-chung (曹恕中) of the Central Geographic Research Bureau (中央地質調查所). "While such structures do appear manmade because of their shape, it is in fact simply an unusual natural occurrence. Therefore we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about the structures."

Shieh and his ten-man team remain adamant, however, that the structures found in Penghu are manmade. Sonar soundings taken by members of the National Sun Yat-sen University's department of marine environment (中山大學海洋環境學系) point to another four such structures; all of which cover roughly the same area and have nearly the same dimensions.

"If [the walls] were the result of volcanic activity then we would have an octopus shape on the seabed. The tentacles being the lava flows and in the center, where the body is, there would a crater," continued Shieh. "We didn't find a crater anywhere in the area, however. This certainly rules out volcanic activity."

Money matters

The hullabaloo surrounding these mysterious structures could be short lived, however. Marine archeology is an expensive business. The cost of the recent two-month trip was upwards of a quarter of a million NT dollars.

According to Yang, present funding is less than adequate if the nation's small number of marine archaeologists are to be allowed to continue their work. Funding is so small that Taiwan's marine archeologists and the work they carry out is more restricted than that of their Chinese counterparts at Beijing's National Museum of Chinese History (中國歷史博物館).

The first institute in China to develop a center of marine archaeology, the museum's team has been exploring seabeds off the coast of China since 1985. It has made valuable finds in the seas off Fujian, Shandong and Liaoning provinces.

"China's underwater archeology teams receive much more funding than we do, as it comes directly from the country's cultural bureau. Our annual budget for research has to be divided between more than one agency," explained Yang. "This very much limits what and where we can operate."

Regardless of the problems faced by lack of funds, Shieh is determined to return to the seas off Penghu next April. With the continued backing of NMHMAT and the help of PTS and Sun Yat-sen University, the team plan to continue their search for the town and, if funds allow, look for the legendary temple as well.

"We'll be back there in early April. Until then the seas around Penghu are far too choppy to undertake an expedition of this type," said Shieh. "With one find under our belts, I'm hopeful that next year we will be able to secure more funds and maybe international interest in our search for long forgotten underwater cities."

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