Two of Taiwan's oldest high-altitude archaeological sites were unearthed Wednesday in Hsinmei, an aboriginal village near the summit of Mount Ali in the southern county of Chiayi, academic sources said yesterday.
Archaeological experts with the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung confirmed that the newly discovered relics were buried about 3,800 years ago, making them more than 1,000 years older than the 2,500-year-old Puli relics discovered a decade ago.
Ho Chuan-kun, head of the museum's archaeological division, said the discovery would greatly advance the study of high-altitude human activities in Taiwan.
The museum formed a special panel last year to study the culture of the aboriginal Tsou tribe under a National Science Council-sponsored research project.
The team began to survey the Hsinmei area last year as legend has it that an indigenous mountain tribe, known as the Takubuyanu, inhabited the Hsinmei and neighboring Chashan regions long ago. Initial digging efforts, however, failed to show results.
Two weeks ago, Ho again led his team of researchers and 10 excavators on an arduous expedition to the region. This time, they dug two carefully selected sites in accordance with a legend that Takubuyanu people liked to plant mango trees beside their homes.
The workers dug two 1.5m-deep trenches, each of which covered 8m2. In the first trench, two well-preserved limestone sarcophagi were recovered.
At the second site, some 300m away, researchers discovered a number of stone articles, including axes and hoes as well as pieces of pottery utensils. Archaeologists said the site used to be a residential area and that the articles unearthed belonged to two different eras.
Ho said an analysis of the artifacts proved that those found at the bottom layer were left some 3,800 years ago and those at the upper layer dated from about 1,700 years ago.
A few years ago, ruins suspected to have been left by the now extinct Takubuyanu people were discovered at the border between Chashan and Hsinmei. Farmers in the Chashan area have often unearthed primeval stone slabs and coffins when digging on their farmland.
Ho said he does not rule out the possibility that the new discoveries have something to do with the Chashan relics.
The Tsou Tribe Culture Foundation said it had chronicled the tribe's history for only slightly more than 1,000 years.
"The discovery of the 3,800-year-old ruins in Hsinmei will encourage us to further explore our ancestors' relics and heritage as part of our efforts to seek autonomy for our tribe members," said Liang Chin-teh, chief executive of the foundation.