As part of preparations for the establishment of the Southern Taiwan Science Park (STSP), a 1995 environmental assessment review of the area covering parts of Shanhua, Sinshih, and Anding Districts in Tainan City was the first inkling of Tainan's importance in Taiwan's prehistory.
Further exploration of the area led to the discovery of dozens of archaeological sites, and a large swath of land was left untouched to allow excavation work to continue. The Tainan science park itself was built around the site.
To date, there are 58 known sites in the area, representing multiple cultures and extending from about 5,000 years ago to the first Han settlers in southern Taiwan.
To provide a permanent exhibition space for the excavated prehistoric artifacts, the government elected to build the Southern Taiwan Science Park (STSP) Branch Museum. Upon completion, the cultural institution will comprise of 4 floors and a total area of 2.44 hectares.
Lagoon of buried treasures
More than 3,500 years ago, the site of the Tainan science park was a lagoon that gradually enclosed over time. Findings from the 'trash pits' of the excavated prehistoric settlements show a large number of seashells, meaning that the region was once located along the coast. Other fascinating discoveries include rice grains, the earliest evidence of rice cultivation in Taiwan, dating back some 4,500 to 5,000 years ago.
A number of stone tools from 4,500 to 3,500 years ago were also uncovered. These tools were mostly made of the enduring olive basalt found on the outlying Penghu Islands. Thus, these early settlers understood stone qualities and were familiar with seafaring, which enabled them to obtain high-grade materials from the smaller islands that dot the seas of western Taiwan. At about 3,500 years ago, local stone materials began to appear and were grounded and polished with simple tools to produce axes, hoes, and knives.
At about 2,000 years ago, iron was introduced. One of the major findings excavated from the science park site is an iron blade. It is a very rare item, for iron easily rusts and disintegrates and iron artifacts are almost never found intact. The groundwater in this area is rich in minerals, which replaced the original materials and provided for good preservation. The knife measures about 33 centimeters in length, making it one of the longest from that period. This knife was most likely a funerary object as it was found with a male adult skeleton.
According to the research team, such iron implements were almost certainly acquired through trade, as no evidence of iron smelting has been found in Tainan. The only confirmed center for iron smelting in prehistoric Taiwan is the Shihsanhang archaeological site nearly 300 kilometers to the north in New Taipei City. It is not yet known, however, whether the iron implements found in TainanCity came from Shihsanhang or from somewhere else inside or outside of Taiwan.
Pottery is another welcomed finding in archaeological digs. The style of pottery can be used to determine the date of the artifact. For example, among the two prehistoric cultures that inhabited southern Taiwan, the Tahu Culture (2,000 to 3,000 years ago) produced gray or red pottery decorated with cord or basket markings, whereas the Niaosung Culture (1,000 to 2,000 years ago) produced pottery that is mostly reddish brown and smooth or decorated with circular and shell-made patterns.
Pottery shards were used to cover bodies in the Niaosung Culture and the Tainan Science Park site has unearthed the first evidence of ceramic coffins produced for infants in prehistoric Taiwan. In total, more than half of the 1,800 skeletons recovered have been of children under two years of age. Those older than two years of age were usually buried in a wooden coffin.
In addition, some of the adult skeletons were found headless, which points to the practice of headhunting, a custom that only subsided among Taiwan's indigenous tribes in the early 20th century. The canine teeth of headhunting victims became decorations for the killers, as these teeth were a symbol of strength and power.
All of these artifacts reveal something about the generations of people who once lived in this area. These insights into prehistoric life are made all the more fascinating against the backdrop of a science park filled with companies innovating advanced technologies and processes.