Priceless relics dating back more than seven centuries could shed new light on the ancient history of Hong Kong after being unearthed during work on a railway line in Kowloon City.
The relics include coins, ceramics, a kiln, the remains of buildings and two wells. They were found as part of a survey carried out on behalf of the MTR Corporation by archaeologist Dr Liu Wensuo, close to the route of the Sha Tin to Central Link.
No decision has been made on what will happen to the antiquities - and whether the site, which will not have to make way for the MTR line, could be preserved and opened to visitors.
The relics were found near one of the city's most important monuments, Sung Wong Toi, a stone with carvings indicating it once sheltered two 13th-century emperors. They are believed to date from various historical periods - from the Song (960-1279AD) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties to the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912.
Among the findings were a square well, said to be largely intact, which preliminary findings suggested dated to the Song era. A more modern, round well was in a poorer condition.
Wells generally indicate an established human settlement, said Chinese University anthropologist Professor Tracey Lie-dan Lu. That made the site particularly important to understanding Hong Kong's past.
"The findings show that there were already vibrant economic activities along the present Kowloon City promenade area in the Song dynasty era," said Andrew Lam Siu-lo, chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Board. He said it was one of the largest such sites found in the city in recent years.
Kowloon City has long been considered Hong Kong's most historic district. The 45-metre Sung Wong Toi boulder once stood on a sacred hill in the area.
It was partially destroyed by the Japanese in the second world war to use as landfill at Kai Tak airport, but a carved section about a third of its size was placed nearby. The engravings tell the story of the last Song emperors, Gong and Bing, who took refuge in the city as the Mongol Yuan regime swept into the south.
The colonial government's bid to develop the area where the stone originally stood was overturned in the 1910s after a petition by academics in what is seen as the first proactive example of heritage conservation in Hong Kong.
As for the latest find, Lam said the board would have to wait for the archaeologists' report before making a recommendation.
The MTR Corporation appointed Liu, of Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, to conduct the survey in November 2012 under the terms of the environmental impact study for building To Kwa Wan station and a railway tunnel. An MTR spokeswoman said its report was expected to be submitted to the government's Antiquities and Monuments Office in the first quarter of this year.