3rd April, 2014
Express Rail Link Speeds Up Construction – Buries Song & Ming Relics in Tsoi Yuen Tsuen
Expected to begin service in two years, the construction of Express Rail Link (high speed train) is in full speed. Besides over 200 families being forced to leave their long term homes located in the rail’s route, relics dated back to Song and Ming dynasties are also buried underneath Tsoi Yuen Tsuen. The HKSAR Government knew about the archaeological value of Tsoi Yuen Tsuen prior to the construction. According to source, these relics include large area of roof tiles. When asked about the details of these historical relics, both Antiquities and Monuments Office and MTR did not give any direct response, but explained that “(the relics) are severely damaged and have no substantial archaeological value.” The truth will be buried underneath the Express Rail Link forever.
According to a document on Antiquities and Monuments Office’s website, uploaded two years after the Express Rail Link (ERL) project began (i.e. 2012), in East of Shek Kong Barracks where Tsoi Yuen Tsuen was located (before it was “acquired”), historical relics were found showing people were living in the area during Ming and Qing dynasties. The report also says that the area has potential archaeological value, but given that there are farmlands, village houses and warehouses located in the area, archaeological excavation cannot begin until the lands are acquired by the government. According to the ERL’s environment evaluation report, historical relics that can be traced back to Song and Ming dynasties were found at three locations in Tsoi Yuen Tsuen, including Song and Ming roof tiles, as well as Song and Qing ceramic fragments. Since the relics were located in a wide area, it is very likely that people were living in the are. The report concluded that the archaeological values of both south and east of Tsoi Yuen Tsuen are substantial.
The government tried to rescue the relics soon after the lands were acquired in an area as large as multiple thousands square meter. Archaeological excavation in the area was completed over three years, but report is yet to be issued. A source said that the findings in the are is substantial, including a large area of roof tiles.
ERL and MTR both confirmed that there are evidence showing people were living in the above sites during Qing dynasty, but did not give further details. MTR said that, “the historical relics found in those sites are damaged ceramic fragments and roof tiles. Based on archeologists’ evaluation, these relics are dated back to between Song and Qing dynasties. The excavation also found that there are evidences showing people were living in the area during Qing dynasty. However, archeologists think that given the relics were damaged during early developments, they have no substantial archeological values.” ERL said that “the excavation was conducted in two phrases: during the prospecting phrase, ceramic fragments dated back to between Song and Qing dynasties were found in the site. In the excavation phrase, ceramic fragments and damaged evidence of human habitation were found in the are [Area II (SP10 & SP20) and Area III (SP16 and TP4)]. However, given the damage level of these relics, they are only recorded for further study. Archeologists have taken the ceramic pieces with higher archeological values to the ERL for storage which will be used for exhibition and further study.”
Given the above responses, the public will never find out what historical relics were located in the site, how big the area was and the historical values of these relics. The public will have to rely on MTR’s report.
Excavation was monitored by archeologists hired by the developers. Reports were drafted by these archeologists, whose independence is in doubt, and reviewed by ERL. The transparency of the evaluation process is very limited, and the excavation was completed in 2011 but ERL has yet to released any report, the explanation given was, “the archeologists only submitted the report recently, and given the amount of relics, it will take some time.”
Michael Meacham from Hong Kong University finds it strange that ERL has not released any report on the findings after three years. He said that although it is difficult to determine the value of the relics based on the existing information (provided by archeologists hired by MTR), village ruins are extremely rare. He thinks that there are problems within the existing system. He also said that ERL should not be the only department to evaluation the archeology rescue work given that it is only part of the environment evaluation report. He also thinks that independent archeologists should be appointed to review the excavation report before any construction work should be carried out at the site in order to prevent valuable relics being damaged.