Hong Kong archaeologists are calling for the establishment of an independent expert panel to reassess the value of relics unearthed in To Kwa Wan, despite the government's commitment to a billion-dollar conservation proposal based on the MTR Corporation's reports. Ahead of Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po's approval yesterday of a plan to preserve an ancient well discovered at the construction site, Professor Tang Chung, director of Chinese University's Centre for Chinese Archaeology and Art, and William Meacham, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Archaeological Society, both warned that that plan and another to preserve more relics in place could be a waste of public money. Tang, who inspected some of the findings at the site in May, argued that they were not of such archaeological value to make it worth preserving in situ - that is, leaving them in place. Spending billions of dollars to do that, he said, would be "against any common sense in archaeology in the world". Late last month, the MTR announced it would redesign the To Kwa Wan station of the Sha Tin-Central link to incorporate seven selected archaeological features ranging from one to 10 centuries old, for passengers to see in their present locations. The Antiquities Advisory Board on Thursday endorsed another conservation plan from the MTR under which the well - dating back to the Song (960-1279) or Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties - would be dismantled, along with its connecting channel built early last century. The well and channel would be reassembled close to their original location, following construction of the station. The MTR submitted the two concurrent plans after conservation activists criticised its contract archaeologists for their removal of most relics from the site. But while Chan has signed off on the preservation measures, Tang and Meacham both urged further, independent review of the relics' value before the plans are finally carried out. Lawmakers have yet to approve funding for the plans. According to the MTR's estimates, the preservation plans would add more than HK$4 billion to the HK$79.8 billion railway project. Some HK$3.1 billion of that has been earmarked, but HK$1 billion more is required. "The authorities' plan to spend billions of dollars to preserve some remnants of the Song-Yuan period settlements … does reflect the importance they attach to local archaeological discoveries. However, if this decision is wrong, it will not just cost the government coffers a big sum but will also bring disastrous impacts on relics to be found in the city in the future," Tang said via email over the weekend. He said the in situ preservation of the relics might backfire, as its impact on development might deter residents from supporting conservation of more important sites later on. Tang, who has done extensive archaeological research both locally and in East Asia, said this site was far from rare in Hong Kong. The artefacts were "just some wells and house structures which had not been kept intact. They only represent some common settlements at that time". The Hong Kong Archaeological Society has said the government should ask archaeologists familiar with southern China to jointly assess the site's value. Tang and Meacham agreed. "There has not been an independent professional team to assess the academic values … I recommend that Hong Kong should immediately set up a panel of experts specialising in Chinese archaeology to thoroughly investigate the findings on the Sha Tin-Central link and make a professional report," Tang said. Late last month, Meacham wrote to board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo with a similar suggestion. Neither the board nor the Antiquities and Monuments Office was a professional archaeological body, and they should seek consensus among local experts before deciding the future of the site, he said. Lam said external experts had been engaged to handle the artefacts during the dig, particularly when the archaeology team found wooden and metal objects, which it had no expertise in handling. The To Kwa Wan dig was headed by Dr Liu Wensuo, an archaeologist from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. He was appointed by a consulting firm the MTR hired to assess the site. The city has dozens of archaeological sites dating back to the Song-Yuan era, including about 17 that experts considered historically important, Tang wrote in an article in May. Citing the Wun Yiu historic pottery kilns in Tai Po as a local example, Tang said only intact sites or objects that significantly contributed to the interpretation of history should be kept in their original positions. "Perhaps many people have a misunderstanding about the meaning of in situ preservation," Tang said. "The remnants found on the Sha Tin-Central link were scattered in the first place. There is one well here and another well there and only a few house structures left." Meacham, a specialist in southern China archaeology, also voiced his doubts as to the historic value of the site. "There are quite a lot of Song dynasty remains in Hong Kong … What has been found now is barely an ordinary village," he said. The site was unlike the Lei Cheng Uk Tomb in Tsuen Wan, which is the only Eastern Han dynasty tomb found in Hong Kong and therefore should be preserved in situ, Meacham said. He also downplayed claims that the site was related to the Emperors Shi and Bing, who were widely believed to have taken refuge in Kowloon when the Song dynasty regime was purged by Mongolian invaders. He said the findings did not contain any evidence of that.