The fate of one of the largest archaeological finds in Hong Kong - and the Sha Tin-Central rail link - was left undecided last night after the man in charge of studying the dig stopped short of a recommendation.
Dr Liu Wensuo, of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, the lead archaeologist in a study of the relics found in To Kwa Wan, was asked at a meeting of the Antiquities Advisory Board whether he considered the relics should be preserved on site, or removed.
He replied: "There are both pros and cons of in situ preservation. It is not a question that I can answer, but is a matter to be discussed with the board, the Antiquities and Monuments Office and even residents."
Liu spoke in public for the first time on the Song-dynasty discoveries, which have sparked controversy over heritage conservation versus building progress of the Sha Tin to Central rail link.
The dilemma was summed up by Chinese University archaeologist Professor Tracey Lu Lie-dan. "I always tell my students that archaeology itself is destruction," she said.
"The difference between grave robbers and us [archaeologists] is that we record our findings in detail. The reconstruction of history through the discovery of relics is the ultimate goal of archaeology."
Earlier, Lu and some members of the Antiquities Advisory Board expressed concern over structures already removed, after the MTR Corporation presented a proposal on protecting a Song-era well and nearby remains of house structures and a nullah that would allow construction nearby to go ahead.
The archaeological excavation in and around the site of the planned To Kwa Wan railway station started in late 2012.
The well that dated only partly to the Song dynasty was removed in two halves for safety reasons and for analysis of its structure, Raymond Ng Chun-lam, an archaeologist on Liu's team, said.
The process was known as dissection of the well, Lu said.
Whether the relics should be preserved in situ should be discussed after the archaeological survey ended, she said.
Activists from the Sacred Hill Monument Concern Group petitioned the board for in situ preservation. "We hope the works for the Sha Tin-Central link will be halted and the public consulted on ways to conserve the relics after the archaeological study is completed," group member Katty Law Ngar-ning said.
Another petition came from residents in the area. "Can't the well be moved next to the Sung Wong Toi boulder?" Leung Ming-biu asked. Leung disagreed with delaying the railway.
Wong Wai-kwong, the Highways Department's senior engineer responsible for the MTR's construction of the link, has said a delay beyond the 2018 completion date would cost "millions" a day.