The Prehistory of Taiwan
Introduction "The Prehistory of Taiwan"
Taiwan is a land that has seen frequent migration of tribes since the prehistoric period. For thousands of years, Taiwan continually attracted immigrants from various areas. The immigrants settled down and introduced cultures from their homelands; through communication with other immigrant groups, a range of prehistoric cultures was developed. There are over one thousand known prehistoric sites found in Taiwan up to the present, and they are generally categorized into fourteen prehistoric cultures. The time span includes the end of the Paleolithic Age, Neolithic Age and Iron Age, which lasted for fifteen thousand years. Their stories formulated "The Prehistory of Taiwan".
For the first stage in the exhibition route, the theme is somewhere between "The Natural History of Taiwan" and "The Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan". The time span ranges from the earliest humans and cultures in Taiwan to approximately 400 years ago, when Taiwan entered the era of recorded history.
The background of this exhibition hall was structured with the concepts of time and space in mind. In the seven exhibition rooms that surround the atrium, Taiwan is separated into a number of regions and shows the prehistoric human activities of those region that have had a significant impact on Taiwan's history.
There are one or two "scenes" placed in the middle of each exhibition room to reconstruct prehistoric human events according to their given themes in the exhibition room. Surrounding the room are prehistoric artifacts and signs. There are eight themes presented in the seven exhibition rooms, and they are arranged in an anti-clockwise fashion. Apart from the exhibition rooms categorized by periods and themes, there are also illustrations of prehistoric sites found in Taiwan and the relevant cultures in the corridor outside the exhibition rooms. Here, visitors can gain a basic understanding of Taiwan's prehistoric cultures.
Prehistoric Culture of Taiwan
The prehistoric culture of Taiwan ranges from the late Paleolithic Age, the Neolithic Age to the Iron Age, lasted for more than fifteen thousand years. These prehistoric cultures were scattered in various areas in Taiwan, distributed in 1,000 different sites.
Tsochen Man was the earliest population recorded in Taiwan. The researches found them to be the people of approximately twenty to thirty thousand years ago. The earliest prehistoric culture in Taiwan recorded, Changpin Culture, was possibly the culture of Tsochen Man.
Changpin Culture was the oldest culture found in Taiwan until now. A community society lived on fishery, with little population, and mainly resided in caves or under rock shelters near the shores. They did not know farming, did not have pottery skills, and they made stone tools through ways of hammering. The period of Changpin Culture can be traced back to thirty thousand years ago, and ended approximately five thousand years ago.
From the Tsochen and Changpin Culture, the visitors are entering the world of prehistoric Taiwan.
The Life of the Prehistoric People
Prehistoric people relied on gathering, fishery, hunting and farming for survival. From the gathering and fishery in the Paleolithic Age, to planting rootstalk crops taken place approximately 6,000 years ago, until about 4,000 years ago, Taiwan finally entered the agricultural society. However, fishery and hunting remained important activities for survival.
At approximately 6,000 years ago, the immigrants from China-"Tapenkeng Culture" commenced the Neolithic Age of Taiwan. At about 4,700 years ago, "Cord-marked Pottery Culture" thrived all over Taiwan, and the different types of cord-marked pottery culture became the foundation of prehistoric cultures in Taiwan.
About 4,000 years ago, when Taipei Basin was still Taipei Lake, people of Yuanshan Culture and Chihshanyen Culture used to live along the bank. They caught fish and shells from the lake, hunted in the nearby hill bushes, and grew rice in areas close to their shelters. The shells netted and eaten were thrown away everywhere they pleased, and as a result, the shells piled up and became a huge deposit that archaeologists refer to as "shell mound".
The exhibition room introduces the immigrants from China at about 6,000 years old, and the predecessor of Taipei Basin---- Taipei Lake. Imagine yourself living along the riverbank with prehistoric people the Neolithic Age in Taiwan.
Prehistoric Pottery of Taiwan
Pottery is found to be daily utensil in the Neolithic Age, for daily, sacrificial, and ceremonial use. Archaeologists classify the prehistoric cultures based on the characteristics of the pottery to infer the relations between the cultures. Some cultures paid more attention to the variation of styles, and some on the decorative functions of the pottery. The arts showed the cultural characteristics of the pottery beyond everyday use.
The pottery made during the prehistoric period in Taiwan is mainly of pottery containers, and among them, jars and alms were largely found. There are also bottles, beans, cups, bowls, plates, spoons, tzeng (steamer), and jugs unearthed. Other pottery artifacts include lids, stands, spinning wheels, bracelets, beads and dolls.
The exhibition room gives a detailed view of the types, function, patterns, and technologies of the prehistoric pottery.
Prehistoric People and the Ocean
To the prehistoric people of Taiwan, the ocean provided plenty of food and a boundless path. Foods gathered from the sea were mainly fish and shells, including large fish such as sharks and sailfish. Besides used for food, the bones and shells were used as materials for tools, such as shell spoons scrapers, as well as for decorations. The fact demonstrates the favorable utilization of resources from the ocean by prehistoric people.
Although there is no evidence on the navigation skills of the prehistoric people, it is believed that they knew how to master the ocean currents and seasonal winds for sailing, and observe stars for orientation. In addition, it is quite possible that they possessed excellent diving skills, and good knowledge on sea ecology, the habitual behaviors of fish, and tides.
Hengchun Peninsula is set to be the scene of this exhibition room to demonstrate how the utilization of the ocean resources by the prehistoric people and evidences of trade taken place on the sea.
Peinan Site and Culture
The Peinan Site has an extensive area, and preserves prehistoric sites of the people's everyday life, their dwellings and burials. It is not only the site with the highest concentration of slate coffins throughout Taiwan, but also the one with the most opulent prehistoric jade artifacts unearthed.
The Peinan Site not only has the most slate coffins, but they are also the most concentrated in a given space. The long axes of the slate coffins were laid in the direction of north-north-east-south-south-west, and were distributed in bands. People of the Peinan Culture mainly buried jade artifacts and pottery with the dead. The jade artifacts are often of a range of styles; the pottery buried with the dead is different from those used everyday and it is possible that they were made especially for burials. By looking at the different numbers and levels of exquisiteness of the artifacts, it is likely that there were distinctive levels of wealth and social rankings.
The exhibition room has the Peinan Culture excavated from the Peinan Site as its theme, and illustrates an amazing prehistoric culture, allowing modern people to realize the splendor of East Taiwan in the prehistoric period.
Megaliths and Sacrifice
The megaliths included monolith, stone statues, stone coffins, stalls, and stone wheels, and were mainly distributed at the foothill to the east of the middle Coastal Ranges. The processed megaliths are thought of being associated with ritual practices. The characteristics of the megaliths did not appear in any other part of Taiwan, and the origin is thought to associate with the Megalithic Culture in Indo-China Peninsula. There are still puzzles existed with these megaliths, and leave boundless imagination to the modern people.
Changkuang Site is situated in the middle part of the East Coast in Taiwan. The prehistoric people carried out sacrifices in this area, and left rock coffins, urn coffins and slate coffins associated to the sacrifices. The types of offerings include containers, tools for survival, tools for tool making, and decoration.
The exhibition room illustrates the unique Megalithic Culture of the East Coast in Taiwan, and Changkuang Site.
Prehistoric Stone and Jade Objects of Taiwan
Before the invention of iron objects, stone and jade objects were the important tools and decorations to the prehistoric people. From everyday tools to funerary items, stone and jade objects accompanied prehistoric people in their entire life.
The stones used to make stone objects were by large sandstones, slate, schist and shale that are common in Taiwan. Special stones such as nephrite, serpentine, and chrysolite particular to a few areas were also used, but the stone objects made from these stones were found outside of these areas. Based on the facts, archaeologists concluded the possibility of trade conducted between those areas.
The making of jade objects required proficient skills and experience, therefore, the existence of specialized jade artisans is suspected.
This exhibition room presents in-depth knowledge on prehistoric stone objects, include the materials, types, functions and the production techniques.
Taiwan during the Iron Age
About 2,000 years ago, metalwork such as iron objects made the first appearance in Taiwan. This not only proves the ability of the prehistoric people in producing new tools, but also a new period that Taiwan had entered.
Influenced by the foreign metalwork style, iron objects became important tools and gradually replaced the stone objects. Foreign materials such as gold, silver, bronze, glass and agate became popular ornaments and substituted jade objects. The foreign objects proved the oversea trade taken place in Taiwan.
The Iron Age in Taiwan nurtured a number of regional cultures, the Shihsanhang Culture of the northern Taiwan, Fantsaiyuan Culture of middle Taiwan, Niaosong Culture and Guishan Culture of southern Taiwan, and Chingpu Culture of east Taiwan. It is possible that the people of these cultures are the ancestors of today's indigenous peoples of Taiwan or Pingpu.