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12 November 2006
Archeological site gives Taiwan's prehistoric insight

Until recently, little was known about the histories and cultures of Taipei's Austronesian aborigines and, in particular, about their relationships with the island's ancient inhabitants. Discovery of the Peinan site in southeastern Taiwan, and the associated artifacts unearthed and interpreted by archaeologists, have proved invaluable in making up some of this deficiency. To help educate visitors about the island's prehistoric past, many of the key finds are now exhibited in the National Museum of Prehistory.
     Excavation of the prehistoric site was started in 1944 by archaeologists Takeo Kanaseki and Naoichi Kokubu at the tail end of the period of Japanese rule. Even though the dig was very small in scale, the pair quickly recognized the site's importance. Nevertheless, excavation halted following Japan's withdrawal from Taiwan, and did not resume immediately under the island's new rulers, the Kuomintang-led ROC administration. Thirty-five years passed until in July 1980, during construction of the Peinan East Line Railway Station, prehistoric remains of great interest were revealed. Numerous slate coffins - dating from a Stone Age culture of around 3000-500 BCE - containing exquisite artifacts as well as skeletons were excavated, attracting great public and media interest and, unfortunately, looting.
     National Taiwan University archaeologist Sung Wen-hsun was delegated to form the Peinan Culture Archaeology Team, which unearthed 1,500 slate coffins and numerous of other artifacts over the next 10 years. After another decade of planning and a total investment of around US$100 million, the NMP opened in August 2002. Archaeologists' most striking discovery was that the slate coffins were all arranged with their heads pointing toward the northeast and feet to the southwest. One theory is that the coffins pointed to Dulan Mountain, where the newly dead would be greeted by their ancestral sprits.
     Upcoming NMP projects include a display of some Peinan site artifacts at Taitung's Feng-nien Airport and a major exhibition introducing Maori artifacts from New Zealand.
All of this began with the accidental discovery of a cultural site dating back around 5,000 years, but which should keep Pasuya Poiconu, the museum's director, his staff of 50, and their countless visitors busy for a good while to come.

Source: Taiwan Journal (10 November 2006)

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