One of the great aspects of living and working in Taiwan is discovering the unexpected, and during one of our weekend family trips near our home, we discovered a 2,500-year-old culture. It was yet another great opportunity for our children to learn firsthand, something unique and interesting.
While driving through one of the largest high-tech industrial parks in Asia, taking in the gleaming glass office buildings and cavernous assembly plants, we expected to see why Taiwan is the largest exporter of LCD technology in the world. But instead, we discovered an archaeological site where we could walk in the same footsteps that the indigenous people of Taiwan had left 2,500 years earlier.
Apparently, while excavating an expansive lot for a new manufacturing complex, workers had to dig pretty deep, and uncovered shards of pottery and bones. Scholars were called in, and it was quickly determined by carbon dating and by studying the geology, that they had just begun to uncover an entire village that was 2,500 years old. This was an opportunity, not just to see artifacts, but to study an entire lifestyle of indigenous Taiwanese families during the Neolithic Age of Taiwan.
There are over 1,000 archaeological sites throughout the island of Taiwan, some of them dating as far back as 15,000 years. People in Taiwan can visit the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung to understand the earliest history of Taiwan, but nothing could beat the immersive experience our children were about to have. As luck would have it, the archaeological site in Nanke was open to the public for only two days (March 19 & 26), before being closed for further excavation. The village and its contents were going to be moved to museums for permanent display.
As we walked down through the grounds, volunteers were stationed at different areas to educate us on different aspects of prehistoric life, and to make sure the artifacts were not disturbed. The first volunteer described the geology and topography of the site, explaining how the active geological forces of Taiwan pushed up the area, so that it wasn’t so deep and inaccessible. He also explained that what was found was a village between two streams in an area rich in food, not far from the coastline. The people lived on fish, shellfish, farming, and hunting native animals, like boar and deer. We inspected vases and bowls that once held grain for the villagers. We walked to an area where houses one stood built on top of wooden posts. We could see what the people ate at the village dump site, where they left shellfish, oysters, and animal bones.
The most striking features available for our observation were the burial sites. We saw skeletons of adults, children, and even an infant. Pots filled with grain were buried next to the bodies to provide them food for the afterlife. The volunteer guides explained to us what we could learn about the people by studying the burial sites. In one site, we learned that a married woman was buried next to a baby. We learned she was likely married, because she was missing one of her canine teeth. In the indigenous cultures of Taiwan at the time, women chose who they were going to marry. Instead of giving a ring, they extracted (painfully) their canine tooth and gave it to the man they wanted to marry. Also buried in her gravesite was a weaving tool, so it was probable she was a skilled weaver in the village. It was amazing to learn how much could be ascertained about a people’s lifestyle 2,500 years ago, but it was all possible by paying attention to the details.
After our quasi-guided tour of the site, we returned to an area where booths were set up to teach children (and curious adults) about prehistoric life in Taiwan. There were many interactive areas, where children were encourage to try the ancient tools and methods. My sons learned about what people ate, how clothes were made (from tree bark), and what tools were used. It was amazing how much the people could do when there was little technology available. In the shadows of a modern computer chip assembly plant, the archaeological site provided a stark contrast between the Taiwanese culture of then and now. Perhaps it was also a revelation that the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people on the island of Taiwan will always be timeless and ageless.