A TERRITORY-WIDE archaeological survey will aim to show that Hong Kong prospered long before the British arrived. 'It has been a common belief that Hong Kong was a village for fishermen before foreigners arrived,' said Chiu Siu-tsan, chief curator of the Antiquities and Monuments Office, which has initiated the $4 million survey. 'But archaeological work in the past 10 years tells us there were inhabitants in the territory thousands of years ago. The finds we may discover in the survey will help us understand more.' According to the Government's yearly Hong Kong Review, Hong Kong was an 'uninviting prospect for settlement'. 'Its mountainous terrain deficient in fertile land and water, Hong Kong possessed only one natural asset, a fine and sheltered anchorage,' it says. 'Largely the reason for the British presence that began in the 1840s, Victoria Harbour was strategically located on the trade routes of the Far East, and was soon to become the hub of a burgeoning entrepot trade with China.' But that description, said veteran archaeologist Au Ka-fat, was misleading. Under colonial rule, the people of Hong Kong had been deprived of the truth about the territory, he said. 'The British would like us to believe that it was them who made Hong Kong prosper but it might not be true,' added Mr Au, who will soon publish his own research work. He said a similar survey had been done 10 years ago by a British archaeology team but the discoveries were 'very superficial'. 'The team only revised what had been done before. There were only a few test pits and hardly any in-depth investigation into the history. I hope this time we can find out more.' Mr Au said people lived in the territory more than 7,000 years ago. Hong Kong was one of 36 major areas for producing salt to supply to Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi. Pearls were plentiful. And Tuen Mun used to be a strategic port for defence guarded by marine troops. 'Hong Kong was far from a place of poverty that we were made to believe,' said Mr Au. He said Hong Kong people needed to find out about its past. 'It's not scientific to ignore the past. We must have a sense of continuity. Otherwise, we'll never have a sense of belonging to this place.' But chairman of the Hong Kong Archaeological Society, William Meacham, disagreed. 'It is absurd to think this survey is going to uncover Hong Kong as a place with a past prosperity that we don't know about. It's like barking up the wrong tree, like chasing a totally false notion,' said Mr Meacham. 'Hong Kong became a city after 1841. Before that there was not anything like a city,' he added.