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4,000-year-old shell tool site found in Taiwan is oldest in Pacific

51 graves, including 10 slate sarcophagi with coral funerary objects found in Eluanbi Park

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(Facebook, National Tsing Hua University photo)

(Facebook, National Tsing Hua University photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Archeologists from National Tsing Hua University's (NTHU) Institute of Anthropology have discovered the first shell tool site in Taiwan and the oldest in the Pacific region.

On Wednesday, NTHU announced the discovery of human skeletons and a treasure trove of ancient artifacts dating back 4,000 years on its Facebook page. The post stated that the finding is a result of archeological excavations carried out by Chiu Hung-lin (邱鴻霖), an associate professor at NTHU's Institute of Anthropology, and Professor Li Kuang-ti (李匡悌) at a site in Eluanbi Park in Pingtung County from 2019 to 2021.

4,000-year-old shell tool site found in Taiwan is oldest in Pacific
Archeologist excavating human skeleton. (Facebook, National Tsing Hua University photo)

According to the statement, a project to renovate shops in the area stumbled upon ancient sarcophagi, shell mounds, ash pits, and numerous archeological relics. Chiu told CNA that the Kenting National Park Headquarters appointed Chiu and Li to head a NTHU team to excavate the site.

The team determined that intensive human activities were conducted at the site between 4,200 and 3,800 years ago, and 51 graves were unearthed, 10 of which had coffins made from slate and contained coral funerary objects. These findings enabled archeologists to better understand the burial customs of prehistoric people and allow for further study of their physical characteristics.

4,000-year-old shell tool site found in Taiwan is oldest in Pacific
Fishing hooks. (Facebook, National Tsing Hua University photo)

In addition to the graves, the team also found a large number of shells and objects made from shells, including finished products, semi-finished products, processing waste, and tools used to make the implements. Due to the large quantity of shells, scientists believe that the area was a shell tool manufacturing site, demonstrating that prehistoric people in Eluanbi had a unique set of shell tool-making techniques.

The university pointed out that this is the first time such a prehistoric shell-processing site has been found in Taiwan. It added that this is also the oldest and largest shell tool-making site in the Pacific region.

4,000-year-old shell tool site found in Taiwan is oldest in Pacific
Shellfish shark tooth ornaments. (Facebook, National Tsing Hua University photo)

Chiu observed that the shell implements are similar in shape to those unearthed in other Pacific Islands. He said that this is important evidence showing that Austronesian people in Taiwan interacted with overseas groups 4,000 years ago, which merits further research.

He said that the discovery of the site during the renovation project had a negative impact on the local residents. The archeologist called on local officials to strike a balance between developing the area and preserving cultural assets.

4,000-year-old shell tool site found in Taiwan is oldest in Pacific
Shell adze. (Facebook, National Tsing Hua University photo)

Although the unearthing of such a large number of valuable cultural artifacts was very exciting to the archeological community, Chiu said that there is no suitable place to preserve them, and he said that they urgently need assistance from the government to provide proper facilities to preserve and display the artifacts.

He argued that establishing a facility to exhibit the artifacts while also renovating the shops would help revitalize tourism in the area and serve as an important educational venue.