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Exhibition shows development of archaeology in Hong Kong

     An exhibition that depicts the development of archaeology in Hong Kong from the 1920s to the present day will be held at the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre from tomorrow (August 14) until September 26.

     Jointly organised by the Antiquities and Monuments Office and the Hong Kong Archaeological Society, the exhibition "Keys to the Past: Artefacts and Records" introduces how archaeologists use artefacts and records to reconstruct the lives of early inhabitants through displaying artefacts excavated locally, plus various field records.

     From the Greek word, "Archaeology" means the study of antiquities. Nowadays, it has become a cross-disciplinary study. Most of the objects and traces of life left by ancestors thousands years ago have been buried. Scientific investigation and excavation are needed to uncover and collect the artefacts systematically and completely. Archaeological excavation, through which records and artefacts can be obtained, has become the key to studying the past, especially the "prehistoric period" which had no written record.

     The principle of archaeological excavations is to restore the site to its state before excavation using the records and artefacts available. Fom the 19th century to the early 20th century, field records had not yet been systematised, so archaeologists mostly used diary and note-taking methods to make simple records on the location of artefacts, the strata they belonged to and the amount of artefacts found. As archaeology developed, field records became more detailed.

     Academics of various faculties started conducting excavation work and surveying in Hong Kong in the 1920s. For example, Chen Kun-chieh and Walter Schofield excavated at Tung Wan in Shek Pik on Lantau Island and Lung Kwu Chau in Tuen Mun, Father Finn excavated at Tai Wan on Lamma Island. Using the note-taking method, they recorded survey and excavation records daily. They also surveyed the landform of the site, drew layout plans of the artefacts and took photos.

     This method of daily note-taking by hand was used until the 1980s, but as research goals changed, the content and format of the notes began to standardise, and included details such as reference numbers of the grid, the strata and the feature, the artefact or feature's date, type, volume and description; drawings of the layout of artefacts and features, and also the reference number of the site and the way the artefacts were lifted out.

     Since the late 1970s, for excavation of archaeological sites like Sham Wan on Lantau Island, Lung Kwu Chau, Sha Chau, Hai Dei Wan on Lantau Island and Chung Hom Wan on Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong archaeologists have had systematic field records. Different types of record forms were designed, based on the types of artefacts, the nature of the archaeological site, the strata, the features available (tombs, kilns or houses), the relationship between the strata.

     There are currently many types of common records used in Hong Kong field archaeology, including daily register, field surface record sheet, grid/ trench record sheet, stratigraphy/ context record sheet, human burial record sheet, built structure record sheet, stratigraphy/ content matrix diagram, artefact register, environmental sample register, measured drawings of artefact, stratification and feature, photograph register, video register and artefact packing register. Archaeologists will use different record forms according to the content that needs to be recorded.

     Currently, Hong Kong has more than 200 archaeological sites from various periods. The sites and artefacts excavated prove that there were inhabitants who lived in Hong Kong since the Neolithic period about 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. Rows of postholes found at the Ha Pak Nai near Deep Bay in Yuen Long show that the early inhabitants might have lived in stilt houses; remains of burnt clay, stoves and ashes discovered in various sites reveal that they already knew how to cook with fire.

     The stone implements, bronze ware and pottery excavated can also reflect the life and culture of the early inhabitants. For example, stone net weights and stone arrowheads show that economic activities like fishing and hunting were already taking place; animal bones and shells help us understand their diet and the ecology of the time. Stone anchors excavated from Yung Long in Tuen Mun and Sha Lo Wan in the northern coast of Lantau Island show that rafts or canoes for transportation in water might have existed. Also, the casts of bronze implements excavated from various sites and the bronze slag remaining from the casting process discovered in Sha Po Tsuen on Lamma Island reflect the existence of local metallurgy and the trade in raw materials.

     The process of discovering facts is not only the aim of other disciplines, it is also the direction in which archaeology is heading. On one hand, archaeologists follow the path of our ancestors. They learn from their success and failures. With new developments in excavation and recording methods, Hong Kong's past culture and society will be gradually unveiled. The renewal and perfecting of archaeological methods not only increase the number of discoveries, it also enhances their contents in depth and accuracy. Such improvements are essential to guide the way to protect our precious archaeological heritage.

     The Heritage Discovery Centre is located at Kowloon Park, Haiphong Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. The centre is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is free.

     For details of the exhibition, guided visit and other activities, please visit Antiquities and Monuments Office's website at or call 2208 4400.

Ends/Thursday, August 13, 2009


The excavation at Man Kok Tsui on Lantau Island in 1958.



The excavation at Lung Kwu Chau in 1974.



The Bronze Age pottery stem cup excavated from Hai Dei Wan on Lantau Island.


The Bronze Age hard pottery food container with lugs excavated from Man Kok Tsui on Lantau Island.








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