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Discovery and Rescue

The earliest records of the Peinan Site were made by Ryuzo Torii, an anthropologist in the early period of the Japanese Occupation in Taiwan. During his four visits to Taiwan for anthropological research, he took two photos of the stone pillars on the ground surface at the Peinan Site; the photos were probably taken in 1896. Tadao Shicano was the first scholar who studied the Peinan Site as an archaeological site. He mentioned in his published article in 1930 that there were numerous slate pillars erected on the ground surface. Shicano, from the legends that were told in the neighboring area of Peinan, inferred that there used to be an ancient tribe, and that the pillars were the remnants of their houses. During the 50 years of Japanese Occupation, the focus of researches had been on the remains of the erected stones on the ground. It was only in 1945 that Joubu Kanasaki and Naokazu Kokubun started carrying out excavations around the largest erected stones, and discovered the underground remains of pottery and houses.

Although there were quite a lot of researches conducted on the Peinan Site by native scholars in Taiwan after the Japanese Occupation Period, there were no excavations done. The Peinan Site was listed as a local heritage site by the Taitung County Government in 1975 and was upgraded to a Class III site in Taiwan in 1979. However, the job of historical preservation had still not been completed. The remains buried underground for thousands of years were unearthed, yet severely damaged during the construction of the Peinan New South Link Railway Station (today's Taitung Station) which began in 1980, and great interest was shown by the public. The Taitung County Government then invited Anthropology Professors Wen-hsun Sung and Chao-mei Lien from the National Taiwan University to lead the archaeological preservation project. There were 13 stages in the project, which was carried out over nine years. The results were impressive. New records of excavation were set in the archaeology history of Taiwan, namely the number of slate coffins and remains excavated. Among the unearthed artifacts, the public was especially in awe of the huge number of exquisite jade objects. The Peinan Site is undoubtedly one of the prehistoric sites that best represent Taiwan.

Settlements of the Prehistoric Times

As proven by Carbon-14 Dating, the time of the Peinan Site was approximately 5,300 to 2,300 years ago. The culture is believed to have reached its prime time about 3,500~2,300 year ago. The residential houses of the Peinan Tribes were positioned axially to the south-north direction, and faced Tulan Mt. Every residential house faced east, looking straight at the rivers and the ocean. The main body of the residential house was shaped like a flat rectangle, 11.5m in length on the east and west sides, and 5.5m on the north and south sides. The footing of walls was made of slate, large floating stones, and wood. The roof was made of bamboo sticks and hays. In front of the house was a square yard tiled with slates. In the back, there was an oval shaped stone circle, where foods and large pottery jugs were stored. There were also silos scattered over the residential area, with rat-expelling boards installed on the mainstays. People of the Peinan Culture mainly relied on hunting and farming for subsistence. They hunted wild boars in the forests, and caught spotted dears in hills and on the plains. Their main crops were rice and millets, and they cultivated fields by "burning the hill fields". There were a large number of farming tools excavated, mostly stone hoes, stone axes, stone knives for harvesting, stone sickles and stone pestles for pounding rice. The hunting tools were mainly stone spears and stone arrowheads. Although the residential area was located near the bank of Peinan River, the townsmen were not skilled at fishing. Fish was only a supplementary source of food.

The long-term settlement motivated the tribesmen to develop craft skills. Apart from stone-made farming tools and hunting tools, pottery was the most commonly used tool in their everyday life, for containing water, storing things and cooking. The potteries were often handmade, occasionally used turntables and burned with low heat. The exterior of the pottery products was often of plain orange color, seldom decorated with pattern designs. The main types of tools were containers such as jugs, bowls and jars, as well as pottery spinning wheels, hammers and spoons. The refined jade objects were the best expression of the aesthetic sense and craft skills of the tribesmen. The crafts included headdresses, earrings, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, armbands, and weapons or instruments of no practical use made with jade or jade-like materials. The styles and forms were of a wide variety. In terms of styles, loop-shaped earrings were of the greatest variation. Amongst the styles, the man-animal loop style was regarded the most representative one and chosen to be the logo of the NMP. In terms of the craft skills, the exquisiteness and the hollow penetration skills of the little jade bells are most breathtaking. These jade objects were the everyday ornaments of the tribesmen, and used as funerary goods for the owners.

The tribesmen gave significant thoughts to one's death. The main burial instrument was a rectangular slate coffin. The slate coffins were positioned to face the north-south direction, Tulan Mt., similar to the residential houses. The corpses were buried in lying position with their toes pointed to Tulan Mt., as if it was the destination of the soul. Although one corpse per coffin was the norm, there were cases when more than one body was buried in the same coffin. Artifacts were buried with mostly adults, but also a few infants. The artifacts included jade and stone ornaments, weapons, tools, pottery spinning wheels and containers. The coffins of those in higher social status tended to be bigger, sometimes even with stone ramparts functioned as the exterior layer of the coffins, and the artifacts buried with the deceased were more refined and larger in quantity. Family members who passed away were often buried inside or nearby the house, to accompany those who were still alive. The close attachment between the residential houses on the earth surface and the burials underneath is one of the major characteristics of the Peinan Site.

The Significance of the Peinan Site

Combining years of research results, the significance of the Peinan Site are summarized as follows:

1.It is the largest site ever been excavated in Taiwan; the area is approximately 10,000m2.
2.It is the site with the largest quantity of historical artifacts excavated in Taiwan; approximately over 1,600 slate coffins, and 20,000 potteries and stone objects.
3.It is the site with the largest quantity and variety of jade objects excavated in Taiwan.
4.It is the largest prehistoric site in Taiwan; the main area is approximately 20~30ha, and the area defined on a broader sense is approximately 80~100ha.
5.It is the site with the most complete residential condition and information in the archaeological history of Taiwan.
6.It is the largest site with slate coffin burial complex in the Pan-pacific Ocean Area and Southeast Asia.

As the Council for Cultural Affairs of the Executive Yuan actively promoted the evaluation of sites to be nominated for the World Heritage in Taiwan since year 2002, the Peinan Site is listed as one of the eleven sites in the first stage evaluation, and the only site listed under the archaeology category. The preliminary evaluation listed the Peinan Site, the cypress forest of Chihlan Mt., Taroko National Park, and the Forest Railway of Alishan in the first category; the category with the greatest potentials. The Peinan Site definitely has indispensable values in terms of academic research, historical preservation, public education, and cultural tourism.

The Birth of the Site Park

Given the significance of the Peinan Site, Professor Wen-hsun Sung suggested that an outdoor museum be built at the site in 1982. After years of discussion, the decision to build "Peinan Cultural Park" at the Peinan Site was finalized in 1991. The surface area of the first stage plan was 18.4ha. Based on the outcome of the trial excavation, Chung Chih Environment and Landscape Consultant Co., Ltd. was appointed to undertake planning and construction of the museum and this began in 1994. In 1999, the major facilities in the first stage plan were nearly completed. Unfortunately, due to the unresolved protests by the local farmers about the broadening of the roads in the park up to then, the license for the use of the Visitor Center could not be obtained for a long time. It was only after the active intervention of the Tourism Development Commission of the Executive Yuan, that the matter was resolved. In December 2002, the Peinan Cultural Park officially opened to the public, the birth of the first site park in Taiwan.

The management principle of the park is to deem the site as a museum of the universe. In order to realize the principle of co-existence with the site, as well as bringing the architectural technology of the late 20th century into full play. The layout, the architectural landscape design, and the building materials have all been chosen after thorough consideration. In coordination to the distribution of the underground historical artifacts, the gentle slopes at the west side of the park were planned as the facility usage zone and the native planting area, while the east side was presented as a large lawn. The Visitor Center was designed as one-story building on the sloping terrain, and coated with an integrated truss structure and gray stainless steel tiles, creating an open space with a simple structure. The arched entrance of the square was constructed with materials that were well integrated and steel tubes to form suspension beams shaped like a shell, which reflects the stability of the entire structure. The Open-air Amphitheater made use of the natural terrain in building the arched stands that blend in with the surrounding gentle slopes. All the facilities in the park are well matched to the natural green environment.

Further Plans

Research has pointed out that the area of the Peinan Site could be up to 100ha. The area currently unearthed in the Peinan Cultural Park is just a small portion of the entire area, and is mostly of the secondary distributions. The second stage and third stage plans in the future will be targeting the major distribution of the site. The exhibitions are based on the actual excavation sites. A complete view of the site park is to be expected from trial excavations, actual excavations and display of the excavated items. The presentation of the excavation process, the exhibition and guided tours, and display of the site are expected to become the center of the park. It will not only be a tourist attraction but also a place for educational purposes.

The native planting that simulates the prehistoric natural environment is also one of the special features of the park. Based on the existing planting, the plants are divided according to different landforms. The lowland ecosystem of East Taiwan is presented with coastline forests, tropical forests, and subtropical forests. What's more, native plants that feature blossoms, color changes and which attract birds and butterflies are used as landscape plants, so that both nature and the landscape fuse together. The core of the site is the design of an open green area. This is to avoid any damage to the underground remains. We hope that the Peinan Cultural Park will be a one that never ceases discovering and growing, and a park that lives generation after generation.