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Historical artifacts uncovered on Heping Island

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Several discoveries made by an international collaboration between Taiwanese and Spanish scholars have presented evidence of human activity on Heping Island (和平島), northeast of Keelung, from around 3,000 years ago.

In order to study the relationship between the former colonizer Holland and local aborigines in Keelung, an archaeology team sponsored by Taiwan's National Science Council (NSC) and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) was formed. It took the team three years and two excavations to finally complete the project and plan an exhibition, titled “From the Renaissance to the Neolithic: The Spanish fortress of Kelang (Taiwan) and its earlier Austronesian and Prehistoric environment,” to show their discoveries.

During the excavations, the team discovered artifacts from several different periods.

Among all the findings, the most intriguing discoveries were artifacts like polished stone knives, stone chisels from the Neolithic period (Yuanshan Culture) and pottery from the Iron Age (Shisanhang Culture). These discoveries show that there was human activity in Northern Taiwan dating back roughly 3,000 years.

As for the main goal of the project, there was only one item of European origin — a bronze buckle — which was of little help to researchers seeking to understand more about the former colonizer. However, the team did discover the foundation of a large European-style building. According to historians, it may be the first Catholic church in Taiwan, or perhaps the house of a Dutch governor. It will take more research to identify the historical remnants.

Jose Eugenio Borao Mateo, a professor at National Taiwan University and also one of the leaders of the project, said, “People will have a better understanding of the long history of Taiwan as well as the role of a small island at the entrance of a harbor in history. This is something else that people can understand about Keelung other than pop culture.”

Excavation Challenges

All the discoveries are being displayed at the Keelung City Indigenous Hall (基隆原住民文化會館) until March 15.

Borao Mateo said it is a rare opportunity to have this exhibition and allow people to learn more of the history of this island, given that the archaeology team had to overcome various challenges to complete the task.

Borao Mateo pointed out that the most challenging task was to get permission for their team to begin the excavations. When the team had to excavate in an urban area, the task became even harder because landlords were concerned that the work would affect the value of their lands.

In addition, the team also faced challenges from the weather.

“You have to wait for good weather, something difficult in Keelung where it usually rains in winter,” said Borao Mateo.

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Two archeologists work at the dig near Keelung, hoping to uncover more mysteries about the prehistoric and colonial history of Northern Taiwan. (Courtesy of Jose Eugenio Borao Mateo)

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