Hong Kong MTR

Should ancient wells stay or go? The experts disagree

While some experts want finds preserved, others believe the real value is in studying them

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 4:22am

A disagreement has arisen over the future of relics unearthed at a railway construction site in Kowloon City between conservationists who want them preserved as they are and archaeologists who want to pull them to pieces for study.

Four wells dating back to periods between the Song dynasty and the 1960s and thousands of artefacts have been removed from the site of the Sha Tin-Central link's To Kwa Wan station.

The government has announced that one square well dating back to the Song (960-1279AD) or Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties will stay where it is. But the future of two other wells, one square and one round, and a collection of relics including a nullah and house structures from the same period remains uncertain.

Independent historian Anthony Chan Tin-kuen said it was hard to judge yet how much of the site should be preserved, but in general in situ preservation was the preferred option for conservation and education.

"By seeing the historic wells and the Sung Wong Toi boulder, albeit the latter has been moved, people can reconstruct the location of the former Sacred Hill," he said, referring to a now-removed outcrop with stone inscriptions, represented today by a fragment that was moved to the present Sung Wong Toi Park in 1959.

The Hong Kong Archaeological Society, which is made up of archaeologists and people from other professions, has released a proposal to build a museum at the future station so that the relics can be preserved in situ while trains run deeper underground.

"Besides archaeological research value, we should also consider the perspectives of town planning, people and stories," society spokesman Stanley Ng Wing-fai said. "The nullah and structures nearby demonstrate some early city planning."

But Professor Tang Chung, director of the Chinese University's Centre for Chinese Archaeology and Art, suggested in an article in Ming Pao on Monday that the two square wells be dissected for investigation of their structures and related catchment and water treatment facilities.

Mana Tang Hok-sze, a research assistant on Tang's team, said it was "a bit of a pity" from an archaeological perspective that the square well discovered first could not be opened up for further analysis.

"The findings show that the same type of stone wells existed in Hong Kong about 300 years before Japan," she said.

It was important not only to display the relics but also to tell the public the stories behind them.

"If there is only a sign reading 'Song dynasty well' and there is no story about the well, why should people come and see it?"

She said the team also felt "a bit puzzled" as to why a decision to preserve the well in situ had been made before the excavation was completed.

"So far three sides around the well have not been dug yet and it is not known what relics are there," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Antiquities and Monuments Office said it would take into consideration a recommendation by Tang Chung that an area of at least five metres from each side of the well be excavated later.

Dr Liu Wensuo, the archaeologist commissioned by the MTR to conduct the excavation, referred the Post's e-mail questions to the corporation.

According to a paper submitted by the monuments office to the Antiquities Advisory Board last month, Liu suggested dismantling the second square well to "understand the construction technology" and to help with the interpretation of the well that is to be preserved.

But at a board meeting last week, he stopped short of giving a stance and said whether the relics should be preserved in situ was a matter for the office, the board and citizens to discuss.