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2.5-tonne haul from Empress Place dig site

FRUITFUL: Among the relics in the archaeological dig - led by archaeologist Mr Lim and his team - include a 700-year-old wooden plank (top) and an imperial-grade ceramic vessel (centre).


    Apr 17, 2015

    2.5-tonne haul from Empress Place dig site

    ANCIENT Singapore - or Temasek, as it was then known - could have had an established government with a head ruler or chieftain in the late 14th century and 15th century.

    The first evidence of this was unearthed in a 10-week-long archaeological dig, the biggest here, which wrapped up on Sunday in Empress Place.

    A team led by archaeologist Lim Chen Sian discovered Chinese imperial-grade ceramics produced between 1375 and 1425, and bestowed by Ming Dynasty emperor Hongwu on overseas leaders.

    The ceramics, which include a large porcelain platter, are part of a 2.5-tonne haul from an excavation organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in partnership with the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas).

    NHB's group director of policy Alvin Tan said the board is "very happy with the results". "We hit the archaeological jackpot in terms of quality and quantity at this site," he said.

    The Urban Redevelopment Authority had given NHB the nod to conduct the dig alongside works to develop an integrated arts, culture and lifestyle precinct there for Singapore's jubilee year.

    Other artefacts uncovered since digging started on Feb 2 include 700-year-old wooden planks that could have been part of a ship.

    They are the first physical evidence of maritime activity in the Temasek period (the 14th century to 17th century), according to Mr Lim. "The timber was likely part of a structure of an ancient ship and the workmanship is typical of the South-east Asian style of ship-building," he said.

    Other highlights include thousands of 700-year-old Chinese coins, stoneware used to store condiments, porcelain pieces fired up in the Yuan Dynasty, a gold ring, a rare gold coin from the 16th-17th century Johor Sultanate and Buddhist figurines.

    Mr Lim believes the range of artefacts found at the Empress Place dig site, near the Singapore River, suggests the area could have been home to a bazaar or marketplace.

    Due to the large volume of artefacts and the complexity of the dig, the team were given a month's extension to continue working on three zones in front of Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall. This came after officials were persuaded that the site was a treasure trove of ancient artefacts, Mr Lim said.

    The 1,000 sq m site - the size of about 10 four-room Housing Board flats - had been divided into 13 excavation zones.

    NHB said that work on seven of the site's excavation zones has been completed. The Iseas team of archaeologists managed to cover about 70 per cent of the remaining six zones.

    A team of five Iseas staff, 10 volunteers and a handful of foreign workers worked on the project - sometimes in the rain and close to midnight - to complete the project, which was budgeted at about $70,000.

    The archaeological team will spend the next two to three years cleaning, sorting and analysing the artefacts. NHB will then decide if they will be put into the National Collection and displayed in museums or at exhibitions.