Centuries-old Western wall found

By Lu Hsien-hsiu and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with Staff writer

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - Page 3

The National Science Council (NSC) and Academia Sinica recently made a possible major breakthrough in their ongoing joint excavation project with Spanish archaeologists on Heping Island (和平島) in Keelung, because remains of a Western-style wall unearthed at the site could be from Spain’s colonization of northern Taiwan about 400 years ago.

The discovery was made following the discovery at the site of a copper belt buckle believed to have been used by 17th-century Europeans.

“The unearthed wall remains measuring up to 2m in length and width and less than 1m in height is clearly not built in the Eastern style. Judging from its construction style and materials, it could possibly be linked to other architecture erected in Taiwan during the colonization by Spain [from 1626 to 1642] and by the Netherlands [between 1624 and 1662,]” said Tsang Cheng-hwa (臧振華), a research fellow at the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica.

“However, for now, we can only presume that the remains could be from the Netherlands and Spain period before seeing more evidence. The copper belt buckle is the only discovery that has been proven to be of European heritage thus far,” he added.

After occupying northern Taiwan in 1626, Spain began the construction of a fort named San Salvador on the island, which was then known as Sheliao Island (社寮島).

In October last year, the NSC and the Academia Sinica launched the excavation project in a parking lot located on the island’s Pingyi Road, which belonged to China Shipbuilding Co.

The project is aimed at searching for the remains of a Spanish convent that archeologists believe used to be on the site before being destroyed.

Archeologists have dug nine square pits on the site and excavated a number of pottery pieces, shells and tiles, which date back to the Japanese colonial era and even to the Qing Dynasty.

“Comparison between an ancient Dutch map and modern topography of Heping Island has helped pinpoint the location of the convent, but further research is required to ascertain whether the uncovered wall remains are indeed part of the nunnery,” said Jose Eugenio Borao Mateo, a professor at National Taiwan University’s department of foreign languages and literature and an authority on historical Taiwan-Spain relations.

To expand the scale of the excavation, the NSC and Academia Sinica made a request to the shipping corporation earlier this year that they be allowed to initiate another fieldwork project within the company’s Keelung-based shipyard, beneath which the Spanish fort is believed to be buried.

The company turned down the request, saying it had many orders and the excavation could interfere with its operations.

Consultation with the shipping company will continue, Tsang said.

Meanwhile, Central Geological Survey (CGS) specialists looking for evidence of a tsunami that reportedly battered Heping Island in 1867 have also recently made some exciting finds.

Geological experts were surprised to find in a test pit in Keelung a layer of sedimentary strata believed to have been left behind by the tsunami.

As many as 50 specialists from Taiwan and abroad, including Japanese marine geology expert Yoko Ota, conducted an on-the-spot survey of the findings on Tuesday, but were divided on whether the discoveries were enough to support the occurrence of the tsunami.

“Ota and other Taiwanese specialists are divided on the discoveries, which demand further analysis since it is only our primary exploration and due to its limited scale,” CGS Regional Geology Division chief Hsieh Kai-hsuan (謝凱旋) said.

On Dec.18, 1867, according to historical sources, a tsunami allegedly triggered by an earthquake, whose epicenter was located about 500m east of Keelung, swallowed homes in the area and took hundreds of lives.

Saying the tsunami had undoubtedly occurred, National Taipei University of Education associate professor Lin Ming-sheng (林明聖) said that based on his own research, indications of the tsunami — which reportedly brought about high, strong and fast-moving tides in waters near Keelung, as well as Heping Island — can also be found in Keelung’s Hsientung Fairy Cave (仙洞巖).

As such, the natural disaster should also be recorded in Heping Island’s stratum, Lin added.