Taiwan Archaeology

Taiwan only has about four hundred years of history in the strict sense, as life on the island began to be documented in the 17th century.  Before this, however, Taiwan had long been inhabited by preliterate aboriginal peoples, meaning that the island has a long prehistorical period.  Archaeology, which is in essence the study of excavated materials, inevitably plays a vital role in the reconstruction of Taiwan’s past as an integral whole and in the investigation of the interrelationship with its surrounding areas.

Archaeology in Taiwan began in 1896, and is thus over a century old.  New development in the field was sparked when in 1949 the Institute of History and Philology moved to Taiwan, bringing in its archeologists and research traditions from the expedition in central plain, northern China.  Archaeological researchers of the IHP are primarily concerned with reconstructing history and culture of Taiwan.  They have conducted surveys and excavations at sites throughout Taiwan with scientific methods in order to proceed intensive research concerning the time and space structure, interaction among ethnic groups, social development, environmental adaptation, settlement types, and trading interaction. Recently in confronting damages caused by urbanization projects on archaeological sites, IHP takes on the responsibility for saving, preserving, and educational promoting the archaeological properties.

一、Taiwan arachological

 二、A Cultural Framework Provided by Archaeology in Taiwan

From the discovery in 1896 of Taiwan’s first prehistoric site—the Chihshanyen Site—on, archaeologists have excavated over 2,000 sites within Taiwan. These sites are distributed over roughly the entire area of the island itself as well as throughout the Penghu archipelago, Green Island, Orchid Island, and other nearby islands belonging to Taiwan. In terms of vertical height, the sites range from coastal plains within meters of sea level to 2,950 meter high mountainous regions. Some of these higher level sites are even located in areas above the highest aboriginal settlements noted in ethnographical records. Through a long-term study of these sites, a broad framework of the cultural development in prehistoric Taiwan and its evolutionary system has already been basically established. An explanation of the ways in which portions of prehistoric culture relate to contemporary aboriginal groups has been achieved as well.

At present there are still many sites which cannot be integrated into the above described framework. The major reason for this is that archaeologists do not, as of yet, fully understand the characteristics of these sites or are completely unable to ascertain whether or not another cultural system existed in Taiwan. Thus, more diligence and research is necessary before this cultural framework can be more completely filled in.

三、Settlement Archaeology

A settlement pattern refers to the manner in which people’s cultural activities and social institutions are distributed over a certain landscape. By studying settlement patterns, for example, the distribution of human activities and the spatial relations between different archaeological features or the relationship between different settlements or a settlement and its surrounding environment, scholars are able to further discuss an archaeological culture from the various perspectives of a complex society.
The Chu-ping site was the first prehistoric settlement found in the mountain regions of Taiwan, and it demonstrates, to a great extent, the characteristics of these mountainous areas. House remains are concentrated around the site, and it contains historical remains with different qualities, such as stone coffins and stone tool workshops. By analyzing archaeological features and artefacts as well as their spatial distributions, scholars can not only understand the traits, patterns, and building structures of ancient settlements, they can also obtain data on the social structure, economic activities, and environmental adaptation of peoples and societies during ancient times.

四、Historical Archaeology

Historical archaeology is a branch of archaeology which emphasizes human activities at monuments or sites from the historical era. Recognizing the importance of historical archaeology in Taiwan, in 1988, research fellows at IHP proposed and proceeded forward with projects for archaeological studies of early Han and aborigine settlements. After surveying various old port and settlement sites, these fellows chose the Ming-Cheng period ancient settlement, Hsing-lung-chuang (also the Ch’ing dyansty Fengshan county, Tsoying old city site), which is in the southern portion of Taiwan, as the site at which to begin their excavation of early Han settlements. In the course of these excavations, they accrued many substantial achievements. Beginning in 1995, the Taiwan archaeological world’s respect for sites of the historical era followed a growing “Taiwan consciousness” and found itself infused with new vitality. New cases for research, including the Eternal Golden Castle, the Tamsui Fuyou Temple, the Dawulun Fort, the Jiayi Benkang site, the Fisherman’s Trail at Yangming Mountain region, and the Shueikutou Canal site in Tainan county, were studied with great rapidity. Since this time, research fellows at IHP have continued to collaborate with scholars of history and architecture to promote historical archaeology in Taiwan.

Generally speaking, there are two major trends in the study of archaeology in Taiwan at present. One involves the research of city, port, and settlement sites for which there are above-ground architectural remains. This type of research centers around Dutch transfer posts in Taiwan and the formation of Han immigrant communities during the Ming and Ch’ing dynasties; archeological fieldwork materials are used to understand another side of Taiwan history. The other type of research takes late prehistoric sites or aboriginal old community sites which leave behind no obvious above-ground structures as its focus. This research attempts to clarify the process of change in the history of aboriginal peoples through use of cultural layer changes from the late prehistoric to historical era.


Petrographic Analysis of Thin-Sectioned Potsherd 
Petrography is a standard and typical technique used for analysis of rock specimens in the geological sciences. Archaeological scientists adopt this technique in order to study the texture and mineral composition of thin-sectioned potsherds by way of a polarizing microscope. This technique is used to determine not only attributes used for pottery classification, but also the ways in which potsherds were manufactured and their places of origin. Thin-sectioned specimens are ground and polished into 30µm thick potsherd slices and mounted onto a glass slide. This allows for the identification of different kinds of sand inclusions as well as for the observation of abundance, size, shape, degree of sorting, particle orientations, and shapes of pores and fissures in and of these inclusions.
The study of the Shihsanhang site provides a good example of petrography-based research. Analysis of pottery sherds unearthed from Shihsanhang reveals that the major category of unearthed sherds, red-brownish pottery with quartz inclusions, could have been manufactured from local clays. The other categories with inclusions of igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rocks were probably imported from different geological regions. Using petrographic analysis, archaeologists have been able to better understand the exchange networks connecting and interactions between prehistoric Shihsanhang peoples and peoples from other regions.

In recent years, eco-archaeology has gathered more attention as a research method in the field of archaeology. The intention of this type of research is to use archaeological data to estimate human adaptation to and interaction with the environment. Adopting an ecological view in the course of their studies, researchers are able to observe human culture through the biophysical environment and to emphasis the systematic nature of relations between humans and this environment. Prehistoric people’s choices and uses of subsistent areas for settlements were usually affected by several criteria, for example, landscape, natural resources, water resources, and other conditions necessary to the production of life. If a certain resource became the main consideration for a settlement, access to that resource would also become the first priority for setting up a subsistent area. Therefore, analyzing ecological data surrounding a settlement provides evidence of the survival strategies or living methods of the people and cultures in that area.

Environmental Archaeology—Pollen Analysis
Pollen analysis is one of the main methods used in the study of vegetations, climates, and environments of the past. Changes in climates and environments lead to substitutions in local vegetation. Recourse to underground pollen fossils allows for the tracking of changes in vegetation through time, and with an understanding of the suitable ecology for each plant, paleoclimates and paleoenvironments can be reconstructed.

Taking the Yilan region as an example, pollen fossil data has shown the environmental development of the local Kiwulan site through the last 2,700 years. The site’s development is as follows: seawater estuary, fresh water estuary, wetland, grassy marsh, and, finally, interstream area. This data illustrates that in the past the coastline of Yilan moved gradually towards the east and that around 1,300 years ago, the climates and the plain region soil became stable and suitable for human occupation. In this way the Kiwulan site came to be inhabited.

六、Contract Archaeology - Archaeologists and their Services to Society

From the Japanese Occupation period onward, archaeological works in Taiwan had all evinced an inclination toward academic-based researches. However, due to the introduction of the concept of salvage archaeology in the 1970’s along with the rise of environmental protection and cultural heritage preservation trends, archaeologists in Taiwan began accepting contract archaeological projects entrusted to them by both the public and private sectors and were able to provide their services to society directly. These contract archaeological projects include: 1, archaeological site surveys requested by cultural heritage departments, 2, surveys and excavations for the purposes of cultural heritage preservation and planning, 3, archaeological surveys necessary for environmental impact assessment], 4, rescue excavations undertaken for or due to construction projects, 5, surveys or excavations of historical remains in national parks, 6, archaeological surveys or excavations necessary for tourism promotion or museum preparation, and 7, archaeological surveys and excavations for training cultural heritage preservation or archaeological personnel.