Archaeologists find 700-year-old relics at Empress Place

Archaeologists find 700-year-old relics at Empress Place
Some notable items found at the excavation site outside Empress Place include a headless Buddha figurine.

SINGAPORE - A team of archaeologists digging at an excavation site in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall have managed to haul up 400kg of artefacts in less than two weeks.

Most of these artefacts, which include Chinese ceramics, jars and figurines, are at least 700 years old, dating as far back as the Yuan dynasty period or 14th century.

These items were recovered from an archaeological excavation site that is currently being carried out at a 1,000 sq m large area - the size of 10 4-room HDB flats - at Empress Place.

This site, which separates the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, is slated for redevelopment under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) enhancement plans for the Civic District, which will be completed in July.

Organised by the National Heritage Board, the archaeological excavation - which began on Feb 2 - hopes to recover artefacts and deposits dating from the Temasek period to Singapore's early colonial days before the upcoming enhancements are made to pave the area to create a more spacious lawn.

According to the National Heritage Board (NHB), this is the largest archaeological excavation ever undertaken in Singapore since the first excavation at Fort Canning in 1984.

An estimated two to three tonnes of artefacts are expected to be found here, said lead archaelogist Lim Chen Sian from the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (NSC-ISEAS).

"Empress Place was the location of a thriving port in the early days and any new discovery will hopefully advance our understanding of Singapore's earliest beginnings," said Mr Lim.

So far, relics from the Temasek era (1300s to 1600s) and colonial era (1800s to 1940s) have been found by the team, which comprises four full-time archaeologists and a group of student volunteers.

Some notable finds from the site include a headless Buddha porcelain figurine, a high quality 12th to late 13th century celadon bowl from Longquan, China, ancient Chinese copper coins, carnelian beads probably from South Asia and even a well-preserved old colonial brick drain, which is believed to be used to pump sewage waste into the Singapore river.

Other organic artefacts such as shells and fishbones were also unearthed.

According to Mr Lim, the Empress Place excavation site has yielded a huge amount of artefacts compared to other excavations. However, the story these artefacts will tell of Singapore's past will only be revealed after they are sent to the laboratory for further assessment, which will take a significant amount of time.

"As a general rule of thumb, one day of digging is equivalent to 21 days in the lab," said Mr Lim.

Significant finds from this site will either be incorporated into the national collection, which currently has 3,000 items, or put on display in future exhibitions, said a spokesperson from NHB.

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