Researchers digging to find 400-year-old Spanish remains in Taiwan

Taipei, Nov. 13 (CNA) Taiwanese and Spanish researchers have been cooperating on an excavation project to find an "embryo city" built by the Spaniards in Taiwan nearly 400 years ago. The excavation, co-funded by Taiwan's National Science Council (NSC) and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), began in early October at Heping Island in the northeastern city of Keelung, where construction of a city named San Salvador began in 1626 during Spain's 1626-1642 occupation of northern Taiwan. At present, archeologists have dug six test pits in a parking lot belonging to Taiwan's China Shipbuilding Corp. in their search for the remains of a Spanish convent that was once part of the city built to ensure Spain's foothold in East Asia maritime trade. The possible location of the convent was determined by Antonio Uriarte of the CSIC and Chang Kun-chen of the National Taipei University of Technology, by taking advantage of a 1667 Dutch map, some Japanese maps of the 1920s and a modern digital map. A ground-penetrating radar survey carried out by a team from National Taiwan Ocean University was also used to identify the possible site, Jose Eugenio Borao Mateo, the National Taiwan University professor who is leading the project, told CNA recently. The researchers have found a pile of stones that extends for about one meter and is 30 centimeters wide, but were hesitant to link it to the convent. "The pile is for certain a sign of human activity, but its purpose remains unknown at this point," said Tsang Cheng-hwa, a researcher of Academia Sinica and the chief Taiwanese archaeologist on the project. Tsang said the archaeological layer in which the stone pile has been discovered could date back to a few hundred years ago and is the most likely place for researchers to discover remains from the Spanish/Dutch period. However, further ground-penetrating radar surveys will be needed to determine how far the structure extends and whether additional digging is required, said the archaeologist. Pottery pieces, animal bones, shells and tiles from the Neolithic to the Japanese occupation period have also been unearthed, but archaeological remains from the Spanish era have yet to be identified, said Susana Consuegra, one of the four Spanish archaeologists of the CSIC team. Whether or not the findings relate to the Spanish era will require further lab analysis, which could take several months, according to the team's two other archaeologists, Sandra Monton and Marc Gener. The researchers are currently seeking permission to enter the dock area of the shipbuilding company, where they believe some remains of a 100-by-100 meter main fortress could be located, but this request has been denied by the company, Borao said. The San Salvador fort was built to counterbalance Dutch power in southern Taiwan and to safeguard Spanish interests in the shipping route between China's Fujian and Manila in the Philippines. The researchers will dig two more pits in the parking lot over the next two weeks before concluding the first part of the project. They will then determine the approximate dates of the excavated artifacts and remains in the following three months, said Borao. In addition, the researchers are trying to understand the archaeological findings through the transcription and translation of Dutch documents by Ann Heylen from National Taiwan Normal University, he added. Titled "From the Renaissance to the Neolithic: The Spanish fortress of Keelung and its Earlier Austronesian and Prehistoric Environment," the project has created much interest and great expectations in Spain, Spanish archaeologist Maria Cruz Berrocal said, adding that the team has received additional sponsorship from Spain's Ministry of Culture. (By Christie Chen)