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LCQ13: Antiquities and monuments excavated from works site of MTR Shatin to Central Link

Following is a question by the Hon Christopher Chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (June 18):

Question:

A large quantity of antiquities and monuments, traceable to the Song Dynasty, were earlier excavated from the works site of the To Kwa Wan Station on the MTR Shatin to Central Link (SCL). Some members of the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB), historians and members of the education sector have pointed out that such antiquities and monuments are of greater archaeological significance than the Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb that was uncovered in the 1950s. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has grasped the quantity of the antiquities and monuments excavated from the aforesaid works site, as well as the dynasties from which they are dated and their types; if so, of the details and set out such information in table form; if not, whether the archaeologists engaged by the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) to carry out the excavation work have regularly reported the progress to the Government or AAB;

(2) whether it has already set the deadline for completing the archaeological work at the end of September this year; if it has not, whether it has set a deadline for the archaeological work (if so, of the deadline); if it has set the deadline at the end of September this year, whether the construction works of SCL will resume in the event that the archaeological work has yet to complete on expiry of the deadline;

(3) as there are views that the current practice of MTRCL to appoint experts on its own to carry out archaeological work in the aforesaid works site is open to question because MTRCL, under the pressure to complete the project as scheduled, may damage the monuments out of hastiness, whether the authorities will request MTRCL to invite local archaeologists, historians, and experts from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to join the excavation work, so as to protect the monuments properly;

(4) whether it will expeditiously consult independent experts or conduct a public consultation to decide on matters such as whether to preserve in-situ the monuments uncovered at the works site of SCL, as well as whether realignment of SCL is required; if it will not, of the mechanism for formulating preservation proposals; and

(5) as some historians have pointed out that the said archaeological work is significant for understanding the history of Hong Kong, whether it will consider setting up an expert committee upon completion of the relevant excavation work to carry out follow-up studies, including compiling the history of Hong Kong afresh based on the relics excavated, so as to enhance Hong Kong people's understanding of the ancient Hong Kong, and to strengthen their sense of belonging to the motherland?

Reply:

President,

My reply to the five parts of Hon Chung's question is as follows:

(1) and (3) In conducting the environmental impact assessment (EIA) under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, the consultant appointed by the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has assessed the impact on cultural heritage arising from the Shatin to Central Link (SCL) railway scheme, including the potential existence of archaeological finds at the previous location of the Sacred Hill and its vicinity within the To Kwa Wan Station area. The EIA report for the SCL therefore recommended that an archaeological survey-cum-excavation (Note: Archaeological survey-cum-excavation is commonly conducted before construction within a specified area with archaeological potential. The archaeological survey is to define the precise horizontal extent and the nature of the archaeological deposits while the excavation is applied to this confined area to retrieve the archaeological data completely. The archaeologist needs to submit a proposal of the archaeological work to the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO), including the method and the procedure of the archaeological excavation. With the approval of the AMO and support of the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB), the Antiquities Authority (i.e. the Secretary for Development) will issue a licence to the applicant in carrying out the archaeological work in accordance with the proposal of the archaeological work and under the close monitoring of the AMO.) be carried out at a specified area prior to the commencement of the construction works of the To Kwa Wan Station. After consultation with the Advisory Council on the Environment and making available the EIA Report for public inspection and comments, the EIA Report for the SCL was approved by the Director of Environmental Protection in February 2012.

The archaeological survey-cum-excavation within the construction site of the To Kwa Wan Station area was carried out by an archaeologist engaged by the SCL contractor. Based on the statutory requirements, the archaeologist should be scientifically trained and experienced; has sufficient staff and financial resources or other resources; and has the ability to conduct or arrange for a proper scientific study of any antiquities discovered as a result of the excavation and search.  Under the close supervision of the AMO, the field works commenced in November 2012 (i.e. in the east of the construction site of the To Kwa Wan Station). A square-shaped stone well dated to Song Dynasty, which is of very high archaeological value, was discovered at this location. Having consulted the views from the AAB, it is decided to preserve the stone well in-situ because the condition of the stone well is intact and it can reflect the traces of people's living in the past. The Government has changed the alignment of the proposed carriageway of Road L9 of the Stage 5 Infrastructure Works in the Kai Tak Development Area, so as to divert the carriageway from the location of the well to facilitate its future display to the public. The other key findings include scattered ceramic sherds, coins and remnants of archaeological features dated from Song-Yuan Dynasties and recent epoch. These archaeological finds have been retrieved to facilitate further excavation to deeper levels in search for other cultural relics and for better understanding of their archaeological significance after detailed recording, including photograph taking and drawing of the archaeological findings as well as making measurements for future research work by the archaeologist. Regarding the movable artefacts such as ceramic sherds and coins, they will be handed over to the Central Archaeological Repository of the AMO for safekeeping after the archaeologist has completed his study and processing. Finds of special archaeological value will be arranged for display in suitable venues in future. The excavation at this work area has reached the sterile layer, 2.3 to 4.8 metres below ground level. The archaeological fieldworks were completed in December 2013.

In relation to the above archaeological survey-cum-excavation, the archaeologist has submitted an interim report to the AMO. The AMO has also been keeping the AAB informed of the archaeological work through reports (Note: The AMO issued four briefs in December 2012, March, September and November 2013 to report to the AAB on the archaeological survey-cum-excavation conducted by the archaeological expert. The AMO also arranged a site visit for the AAB members on November 27, 2013 regarding the archaeological finds. At the AAB meeting on December 4, 2013, the AAB discussed the preservation arrangement and provided views on the future interpretation of the archaeological discoveries. In addition, the AMO subsequently issued two briefs in April and May 2014 to report to the AAB on the work progress in the second archaeological work area and arranged a site visit for the AAB members on May 2, 2014.). All the related documents are available for public viewing at AMO's website. The archaeologist is continuing with the study and analysis of the relevant archaeological finds, and is preparing the final report. The final report is expected to be submitted to the AMO by the end of this year. The SCL contractor has resumed the construction works in phases within the first archaeological work area where the archaeological survey-cum-excavation was completed.

Besides, when the SCL contractor was carrying out piling works at the launching shaft location for tunnel boring machines (i.e. in the west of the construction site of To Kwa Wan Station), over 500 coins dated to Song Dynasty were found. The archaeologist employed by the SCL contractor then immediately reported the discovery to AMO. At the request and close supervision of AMO, an archaeological watching brief (AWB) (Note: AWB refers to any archaeological work conducted during the construction phase of development project. AWB allows archaeological methods to be applied by archaeologists once any archaeological remains are identified in the course of the earth movement works of the development project. A proposal is required to specify the aim, method, and potential mitigation measures for the AWB. AWB could turn into an archaeological excavation if significant archaeological remains are discovered. Once the AWB commences, the archaeologist needs to report any archaeological remains discovered to the AMO. The AMO will then report the related discoveries to the AAB. The AMO will also regularly oversee the related archaeological work.) at the launching shaft area (i.e. the second archaeological work area) commenced in December 2013. At the moment, the archaeological fieldworks at the second archaeological work area were completed, except for that in the T1 Area which is of about 400 square metres at the south-west corner of the second archaeological work area. The excavation at the rest of the second archaeological work area has reached the sterile layer, which is 2.6 to 4.5 metres below ground level, and the archaeological fieldworks were completed.

Another square-shaped stone well dated to Song Dynasty and stone building remnants were discovered at the T1 Area, but this stone well was not as intact when compared with the previously discovered stone well. At this stage, MTRCL has implemented suitable measures to protect the stone well and the stone building remnants. Besides, two pits were also found within the T1 Area and its vicinity. The nature and function of the pits have to be confirmed after further investigation. At present, other than the T1 Area of the second archaeological work area, the archaeological work has been extended to the third archaeological work area upon the request of AMO (i.e. the area between the two archaeological work areas in the east and west, as well as the areas to the west and southwest of the T1 Area). Under the close supervision of AMO, the archaeologist commenced the archaeological work in April 2014 in areas within the third archaeological work area. MTRCL has suspended the construction works in this zone in order not to affect the archaeological work.

At present, the most important task is to complete the archaeological work as soon as possible, so as to retrieve more information and have a more comprehensive and in depth analysis on the heritage value of the archaeological remnants and finds. The AMO would closely monitor the archaeological work during this period in order to ensure that archaeological relics would be properly protected. If there is significant archaeological findings, the archaeologist would immediately report them to the AMO. Where necessary, the AMO would invite other experts to provide advice on the findings. Such practice is in line with the current practices on archaeological work.

(2) and (4) Since the archaeological work within the area has not been completed, information of the remnants of human settlements dating back to the Song-Yuan period there is still incomplete at this stage. We, however, believe that when archaeological work is completed in the third quarter of this year, we can gather more data on the archaeological site for further study and analysis, so as to formulate appropriate preservation proposals and measures for the archaeological remains (including the stone well discovered at a later stage) at the site. By then, we will consult the AAB before a more comprehensive and concrete conclusion is drawn.

The Transport and Housing Bureau has been paying close attention to the archaeological discovery and making the best arrangement in terms of construction; the MTRCL has suspended the construction works in the area where the archaeological work is ongoing, except for those relating to the archaeological excavation. As regard to the area where the archaeological work was completed, the MTRCL may resume the works gradually.

(5) Archaeological remains suggest that Hong Kong was inhabited by early settlers around 4,000 years ago. According to Professor Tang Chung of the Department of History of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, archaeological remains of the Song-Yuan period can be found at various sites in Hong Kong. This is not the first time evidence of human settlement in Hong Kong of the Song-Yuan period was found.

As mentioned above, information on the overall condition and extent of the remnants of human settlement of the Song-Yuan period is incomplete as the archaeological work is still on-going. We believe that when archaeological work is completed in the third quarter of this year, we can gather more data on the archaeological site for further study and analysis, so as to draw a more comprehensive and concrete conclusion regarding the extent and condition of the archaeological remains as well as their overall heritage value, and to formulate appropriate preservation proposals and measures.

Ends/Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:28

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