Fri, Sep 06, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways & Byways: In Tainan science park, a new window on the past opens

Several hundred of the approximately eight million items recovered from digs around the science park are now on display in the Museum of Archaeology

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The western exterior of the Museum of Archaeology, Tainan Branch of the National Museum of Prehistory.

Photo: Steven Crook

For archaeologists, the development of the Tainan section of the Southern Taiwan Science Park (南部科學工業園區) turned out to be an unexpected bonanza. Before the high-tech industrial park was established a quarter of a century ago, much of its land belonged to Taiwan Sugar Corporation (台糖). As cane plantations were converted into wafer fabs, 58 sites of archaeological interest were unearthed, and some startling discoveries were made.

The thoroughness with which archaeologists surveyed the science park is in part the result of local politics. News that building the park could endanger heritage sites emboldened opponents of the plan, while unsuccessful candidate locations used it as ammunition when lobbying the central government to reconsider their choice. What began as a government-sponsored six-month evaluation snowballed into a long-term effort to rescue what would otherwise be destroyed by diggers or sealed beneath concrete.

More than 65,000 people now work in the 1,043-hectare park, which sprawls across parts of the Tainan City districts of Anding (安定), Shanhua (善化), and Sinshih (新市). Nowadays, few people live within its boundaries. However, prehistoric human settlers left behind more than 2,000 graves, countless tools and weapons, as well as garbage heaps that tell us something about their diet.

Biofacts (organic material found at an archaeological site, as opposed to artifacts, which are objects made by humans) retrieved at the science park’s Nankuanli East (南關里東) site prove beyond doubt that Taiwanese grew rice long before the arrival of Han settlers in the 17th century — a finding that surprises both Han and indigenous Taiwanese. Archaeologisists also recovered domesticated and wild millet, fish bones and the remains of boar, deer, hares and muntjac. Some canine bones show signs of cutting (meaning those animals were probably eaten), but other dogs were buried intact, suggesting they were valued as hunting companions.


The museum is at 10 Nanke 3rd Road (南科三路). A handful of Orange Line buses from Shanhua stop nearby. Wikipedia claims that the museum is “within walking distance” of Nanke TRA Station, but the distance is about 4km.

Nankuanli East is associated with the Tapenkeng culture (大坌坑文化), the earliest of Taiwan’s Neolithic cultures, and radiocarbon dating indicates people lived there approximately 4,300 to 5,000 years ago. Other sites in the park have given up traces of the more recent Niuchoutzu (牛稠子), Tahu (大湖), Niaosong (蔦松), Siraya (西拉雅), and Han cultures.

Several hundred of the approximately eight million items recovered from digs around the science park are now on display in the Museum of Archaeology, Tainan Branch of the National Museum of Prehistory (國立臺灣史前文化博物館南科考古館). The museum soft-opened at the end of last year, and there’s no admission charge for the two exhibition halls currently open to the public. Another two halls will be ready on October 19. From that date, the museum will open Tuesday to Sunday instead of Monday to Friday.

I visited the museum earlier this summer, and found it so worthwhile that I’m determined to go back after Oct. 19. Museum staff told me the new exhibitions will focus on the scientific methods of archaeology and the lives of Taiwanese ancestors, but that no final decision has been made about admission charges.

The tour direction begins by introducing the area’s geographical history. Until around 5,000 years ago, much of what’s now the science park was beneath the sea. The coastline moved westward due to tectonic activity and sediment deposited by rivers to the north and south. Nankuanli East had a twofold attraction to early humans: It was both higher than other points of land, and thus less prone to inundation, yet conveniently close to the ocean and the food that could be harvested from it.

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