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Archaeological Work in Hong Kong

Archaeological studies in Hong Kong first began in the 1920s. Artefacts and other evidence of human activities were unearthed at numerous coastal sites mostly located on outlying islands. These significant finds testify to events in Hong Kong’s history which span more than 6,000 years.

During the formative years, archaeological investigations were mainly undertaken by a small group of keen amateurs, namely C. Heanley (1877-1970), J. Shellshear (1885-1958), Fr. D. Finn (1886-1936), W. Schofield (1888-1968) and Chen Kung-che (1890-1961). However, it was not until the mid-1950s that an increasing number of well-organized archaeological works was taken place with the inception of the University Archaeological Team which was later become the present Hong Kong Archaeological Society. The 1970s witnessed growing support and involvement of the Government in heritage conservation. This led ultimately to the implementation of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap. 53) which forbids unlicensed archaeological excavations. The Government also established the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) in 1976 to enforce the provision of the Ordinance to preserve, amongst other things, archaeological heritage in Hong Kong. Two government-commissioned territory-wide archaeological surveys were conducted in 1983-1985 and 1997-1998 respectively to assess the potential value of all identified archaeological sites in Hong Kong and to record new ones. With the engagement of more professionally trained archaeologists, the Government began to play a more active role in the preservation and rescue of Hong Kong’s heritage. This is exemplified by rescue excavations at Yung Long (1992-1993), Tung Wan Tsai North (1997), Sha Ha (2001-2002) and So Kwun Wat (2000-2001, 2008-09).

Archaeological sites are often threatened by projects and urban expansion of various kinds such as housing developments and infrastructure construction. In keeping with worldwide practice, the AMO favours conservation of archaeological heritage. In-situ preservation of archaeological remains must be taken as the first priority. Rescue excavations shall be regarded as the very last resort and only be recommended with strong justifications. The AMO is actively involved in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) initiated in the planning of infrastructure projects and development proposals. Archaeological investigations are required to be carried out as a part of Cultural Heritage Impact Assessments to devise mitigation measures to protect the invaluable archaeological heritage of Hong Kong. A number of archaeological investigations and excavations have already been conducted in development areas with archaeological potential by project proponents under the AMO’s guidance.

While the EIA mechanism applies to development projects in Hong Kong specified under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) is a Government internal administrative procedure requiring assessments to be conducted for all new capital works projects where necessary. Under the HIA mechanism, the project proponents and relevant works departments are required to consider whether the implementation of the new capital works projects will affect “heritage sites”. These include declared or proposed monuments, sites and buildings graded by the Antiquities Advisory Board, sites of archaeological interest or Government historic sites identified by the AMO. Please refer to http://www.heritage.gov.hk/en/impact/index.htm for more details.

In accordance with the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap. 53), a ‘Licence to Excavate and Search for Antiquities’ shall be obtained before the commencement of excavation and search for antiquities. Information regarding licence application is as follows:

Application to obtain a Licence to Excavate and Search for Antiquities

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