Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Piecing Together Sha PoArchaeological Investigations and Landscape Reconstruction$

Mick Atha and Kennis Yip

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9789888208982

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888208982.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM HONG KONG SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hongkong.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hong Kong University Press, 2022. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HKSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 25 May 2022

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

(p.16) 2 How We Know about Ancient Sha Po
Piecing Together Sha Po

Mick Atha

Kennis Yip

Hong Kong University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter charts the twists and turns of Sha Po’s ‘site biography’, or how over a period of eight decades our present understanding of its archaeological treasures gradually came to light. It is a story that reflects Hong Kong archaeology as a whole, in that there were the discoveries made by pre-war pioneers, significant contributions by the Hong Kong Archaeological Society and the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) and, most recently, a series of important finds made by archaeologists working in the commercial sector. During that story of discovery, fieldwork progressed from poorly recorded ‘antiquarian collecting’, through more formalised research digging, into the present era of AMO-licensed excavations working to agreed research designs.

Keywords:   Site biography, Hong Kong history of archaeology, Multi-period, Antiquarianism, Hong Kong Archaeological Society, Professionalisation, Commercial archaeology, Research design


The Sha Po Old Village backbeach and New Village plateau sites both lie within the larger Yung Shue Wan Site of Archaeological Interest. The initial pre-war identification of the plateau site occurred as a result of agricultural activity and erosion, whereas more recent archaeological discoveries on the backbeach and plateau alike have resulted from investigations associated with a mixture of Small House developments, government infrastructure projects, and occasional research digs. The forty-eight areas1 investigated at Sha Po since the early 1970s have produced regionally significant discoveries but, in common with many other Hong Kong archaeological sites, most remain unpublished and unknown to the general public. Moreover, when viewed individually the full meaning and significance of such discoveries can easily be overlooked. One aim of this book, therefore, is to highlight the significant research value of collectively analysing old archives, unpublished reports, and published site summaries, especially when such findings are then presented through the lens of a multi-period social landscape.

The narrative below follows the progress of fieldwork and discovery in chronological order: from the earliest finds made by pioneers of the pre-war era, to the 1960s–1990s salvage-research fieldwork of the Hong Kong Archaeological Society, right up to the most recent discoveries made by professional archaeologists within a development-funded ‘impact assessment’ context.

The Father of Lamma Archaeology

The story of archaeological fieldwork in Sha Po can be traced all the way back to the early 1930s and the activities of one remarkable scholar—the eminent Classicist, linguist, geographer, and archaeologist Father Daniel Finn.2 Finn was an Irish Jesuit priest and lecturer in geography at the University of Hong Kong, and it was there that he came into contact with local archaeological pioneers Professor J. L. Shellshear of the Department of Anatomy and his associate Dr. C. M. Heanley, who together produced the first publication on Hong Kong archaeology.3 Finn was unique among the early fieldworkers in that he had studied classical archaeology first at Royal University in Ireland and then subsequently at Oxford. The others were, nevertheless, prominent scholars in their own fields and all had scientific training of some sort or another. In the first of his thirteen articles on Lamma Island archaeology, Finn records how the professor, before going on leave in 1932, ‘asked me to interest myself in the [archaeological] observations’.4 Shortly after that conversation, Finn relates finding sherds of prehistoric pottery, a bronze weapon fragment, and a stone spearhead in sand being unloaded from junks onto a quayside in Aberdeen. Enquiries revealed that the sand had come from Tai Wan on the western shore of Lamma Island, a site first discovered by Heanley and already known to be archaeologically rich due to his initial (p.17)

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Map 5: Sha Po study area showing areas previously investigated by excavation (light grey) and monitored by watching brief (dark grey). The approximate extent of the backbeach is shown in brown outline. 1: 1972 Bronze Age pot find spot; 2–4: HKAS 1972 trenches ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ respectively; 5–7: HKAS 1988 trenches ‘D’, ‘E’, and ‘F’ respectively; 8–11: HKAS 1989 trenches ‘G-GT’, ‘H’, ‘X’, and ‘CC’ respectively; 12–13: HKAS 1995 trenches ‘J’ and ‘K’ respectively; 14–15: AMO 1997 trenches 1 and 2 respectively; 16: Au 2000–2001; 17: Li 2001; 18–24: AAL 2002 units (trenches) 2–7 and 9 respectively; 25: AMO 2004; 26–27: ERM 2005 trenches ‘T1’ and ‘T2’ respectively; 28: AMO 2010; 29: Peacock and Nixon (First Territory-Wide Survey); 30: Au 2001; 31–37: AAL 2008–10 trenches AA1, AA2, AA4, AA5, AA3, AA6, and AA7 respectively; 38–47: AAL 2008–10 watching brief areas A–J respectively; 48: AMO 2012.

Source: SMO. 1:1000 Scale Topographic Map, Sheet Nos. 14-NE-10D and 14-NE-15B. Hong Kong: Lands Department, 2015. Reproduced with permission of the Director of Lands. © The Government of the Hong Kong SAR. Licence No. 59/2015.

(p.18) discoveries and those he subsequently made with others.5 Although Finn’s thirteen articles published in The Hong Kong Naturalist were predominantly focused on his excavations at Tai Wan, where he identified an important Bronze Age site in the process of being destroyed by sand quarrying, he also discussed findings from two other important sites on the west coast of North Lamma: Hung Shing Ye to the south and Yung Shue Wan to the north.

In Finn’s day the main Sha Po backbeach site was then unknown to archaeologists as it still lay hidden from view beneath the fields and houses of the Old Village. Only with the intensification of housing development, which occurred from the 1970s onwards, did the full significance of the site become clear. In contrast, by the 1930s a combination of widespread agricultural terracing and associated erosion on the New Village plateau had brought significant quantities of prehistoric artefacts to the surface. In addition to the remains visible on the plateau itself, examples of similar materials were also noted in erosion deposits on its slopes and at their foot.6 Finn’s ‘YSW’ site thus encompassed the plateau and surrounding slopes to the south, west, and north, but he also mentions finding similar materials on the northern flank of Yung Shue Long valley as well. There are, however, no records of Finn ever excavating on the plateau and it seems likely that everything he mentioned was surface collected from sediments disturbed by agriculture and/or redeposited by erosion. The main features of his ‘YSW’ site were a predominance of coarse and hard geometric ceramics—the latter having a distinctive grey fabric dotted with black inclusions—‘cups, glazed and unglazed, some with “trade-marks”’, plus evidence for a stone ornament workshop ‘notably of quartz rings’, numbers of crude pebble picks, a few bronze objects, and a unique hard pottery ‘horse’ figurine.7 Chen Kung-che also reported collecting quartz artefacts and debitage on the terraced plateau, which further supported the workshop hypothesis.8

It is thus quite clear that, even before the Pacific War of 1941–45 Lamma Island was already a prominent location on Hong Kong’s ‘archaeological map’, but many of Sha Po’s secrets were yet to be revealed.

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Plate 5: Father Finn (left) working at Tai Wan in the 1930s.

© Irish Jesuit Archives, Dublin, reproduced with permission.

(p.19) Post-war Research and Salvage Work

Prelude to legislation

The war had a profound impact on Hong Kong and its people: local Chinese and foreigners similarly endured tremendous hardships and suffering during the occupation. Not surprisingly, therefore, in the years following liberation the city’s inhabitants were more focused on rebuilding their lives and looking to the future, rather than considering archaeology and the past. Nonetheless, as early as 1947 Professor S. G. Davis of Hong Kong University was leading groups of friends and students on weekend trips to Lamma Island where they conducted minor surveys and excavations, although artefact collection rather than systematic recording seems to have been their main focus.9 In 1956 a more formal group of archaeological enthusiasts, comprising scholars in a variety of departments at the University and members of the public, founded the University Archaeological Team, which continued revisiting sites identified by the pre-war pioneers, as well as searching for new ones.10 As a known archaeological ‘hotspot’, Lamma Island continued to be a focus of interest and a 1959 visit to the Yung Shue Long part of Finn’s ‘YSW’ site is recorded in a handwritten notebook in the archives of the Hong Kong Archaeological Society. The Society was formed in 1967 and in November of that same year carried out trial excavations on the western slopes of the New Village plateau but found only evidence for quite recent agricultural activity and a few sherds of disturbed prehistoric pottery.11

Since the early 1970s a significant proportion of archaeological investigations conducted at both Sha Po sites have occurred as a result of Small Village House developments,12 which are the most common type of small-scale construction projects regularly occurring in Hong Kong. Indeed, the first clues as to the archaeological richness of the backbeach site resulted in 1972 from foundation trenching for a new house at Sha Po Old Village. There, the local contractor unearthed an almost complete Bronze Age pot [1],13 which suggested that the backbeach and plateau were both in use during that period. That chance find was followed up by three small trenches excavated by the society [2–4], which yielded evidence for stratified deposits with green glazed historical pottery and kiln debris—probably Six Dynasties–Tang

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Figure 1: 1972 hard geometric pot


How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Plate 6: Sha Po Old Village: photo montage of 1972 HKAS and Museum of History excavation.

© Hong Kong Archaeological Society, reproduced with permission.

in date—above layers with Bronze Age and Later Neolithic pottery.14 Although small-scale, these first formal excavations clearly suggested that the backbeach site mirrored the known pattern of multi-period activity at similar sites around Hong Kong’s coastline.

Sha Po emerges: The Society and the AMO

The establishment of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) in 1976 marked the beginning of a new era of more formalised heritage management practice in Hong Kong. Thereafter, anyone wishing to carry out archaeological surveys or excavations was required to have a government licence, and fieldwork in general became more rigorously controlled.15 In the early 1980s the AMO commissioned an archaeological survey of the entire territory, which included the excavation of a small trench on the plateau [29]. In line with the negative result of the Society’s earlier trenches, the excavators could find no trace of (p.21) in situ Bronze Age deposits, only disturbed prehistoric material including a surface find of half a stone mould for casting bronze axes.16 The site therefore seemed to have been significantly degraded since Finn’s day; however, as we will see below, more extensive recent excavations on the plateau have confirmed that undisturbed early to mid-Bronze-Age layers and features do still survive there.

The Society eventually returned to the backbeach in 1988 and investigated the area to the south-west of the 1972 trenches [5–7]. The three further trenches yielded large quantities of fired clay kiln debris associated with distinctive Six Dynasties–Tang pottery and some Song material—but no kiln structures. Underlying prehistoric material was concentrated in the two more easterly trenches and a range of Later Neolithic to Bronze Age materials, consistent with the 1972 results, was found.17 The material patterning already suggested that the main focus of prehistoric activity was probably down the landward (eastern) side of the backbeach while, based on the volumes of kiln debris being encountered, the early historical kilns noted elsewhere around Hong Kong’s coastline were almost certainly awaiting discovery at Sha Po.

The Society returned to the Old Village the following year to conduct research excavations in previously untested areas of the backbeach. Of the four trenches, two were located to the north of the 1988 area [8 and 9], one to the south [11], and another around 80 m to the north-east [10]. Trench G-GT [8] was dominated by Six Dynasties–Tang material in blackened soils, including apparently in situ kiln furniture, a fired clay ‘floor’, and much shell and coral mixed with charcoal and lime.18 Here again was striking proof of early historical industrial activity, albeit still without any intact kiln structures. Close to the water table were a number of Bronze Age sherds and ‘water rolled’ coarse pottery. Approximately 15 m further north, Trench H [9] revealed ‘a floor of large kiln blocks and large coral pieces’,19 which reinforced the impression of widespread early historical industrial activity down the seaward (western) side of the backbeach. Some 50 m north-east of the latter excavation, Trench X [10] investigated the central-northern part of the backbeach in an area that remains largely untested to this day. More kiln debris was uncovered mixed with shells, mammal bone, and lime in association with Tang and Bronze Age pottery. Interestingly, beneath that there were indications of midden deposits (ancient rubbish dumps) containing Bronze Age pottery with burnt (mammal?) bones and fish bones, with some Later Neolithic pottery underneath.20 The fourth, and by far the largest (6 × 6 m), of the trenches excavated in 1989—Trench CC—[11] was at the southern end of the backbeach and proved very productive with well-stratified, multi-period archaeological remains including some of regional importance. A series of cultural deposits was noted, sloping down from south to north and seemingly reflecting the seaward profile of the prehistoric backbeach. The upper deposits contained the by then familiar mix of kiln debris, lime, and Tang pottery with some Song material, but beneath that was clear evidence for an early historical midden deposit with mammal and fish bones and Six Dynasties green glazed celadon. Below the midden, a thin layer of pumice overlay the rare find of a well-preserved Jin dynasty burial of an adult female with hairpin and two finger-rings. Given Hong Kong’s destructive acidic soils, such preservation of organic remains only occurs where overlying deposits contain shells, coral, or lime—as was the case here. The possibility of in situ Bronze Age deposits within the backbeach, which was first raised by the complete pot found in 1972, was finally realised in Trench CC when an horizon rich in material of that period, including three complete stem cups, four sandstone moulds—two a matching pair—for casting bronze axes, possible crucible fragments, and coarse pottery sherds splashed with bronze were found.21 Here at last was definitive proof of bronze casting on a Hong Kong archaeological site, although the activity had first been suggested by Finn in the early 1930s following his discovery of a mould half at Tai Wan and bronze splashes on stones at Hung Shing Ye.22

A fuller understanding of the scale and intensity of prehistoric activity on the backbeach resulted from two excavations conducted in 1994 by the Society on behalf of the AMO on the landward side (p.22) of the backbeach [12 and 13].23 Trench J [12] revealed a Later Neolithic–Bronze Age layer very rich in ceramics, beneath which was the first evidence for a Middle Neolithic presence on site. Trench K [13], which was located immediately south of Trench CC, yielded several complete Bronze Age pots from a layer that was clearly the continuation of that identified in the adjacent trench. The Han–Six Dynasties midden noted in Trench CC also continued south across Trench K. The upper layers in Trenches J and K both produced the familiar pattern of Tang dynasty industrial activity, though still with no evidence of actual kilns.

The final investigation of the ‘pre-impact assessment’ era occurred in the Old Village’s western block, when two trenches were excavated during the redevelopment of a house [14 and 15]. Past building work had mixed Tang pottery and kiln debris with Later Neolithic and Bronze Age material, but a Six Dynasties burial was identified cutting into Bronze Age deposits and the rare discovery of one half of a sandstone mould for a pair of fish-hooks was also made.24

The ‘Impact Assessment Era’: House Plots and Pipe Slots

The implementation in 1998 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance25 marked the beginning of commercial or development-funded archaeology in Hong Kong. However, the AMO continued to oversee all pre-development archaeological investigations for Small Village House developments in sensitive archaeological sites such as Sha Po. A key effect of the new legislation at Sha Po was the extension of impact mitigation—archaeological excavations and monitoring works—to the long pipe trench alignments of infrastructure projects, which opened up new areas for investigation that had previously remained untested. At Sha Po, this invaluable change has shown that while utility installations can cause

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Plate 7: Yung Shue Wan Back Street: photo montage of the 2000–2001 AMO excavation.

© Antiquities and Monuments Office, reproduced with permission.

(p.23) significant damage to archaeological deposits, important remains can nevertheless survive below or in between.

The first fieldwork in Sha Po of the ‘new era’ was an AMO investigation in 2000–2001 [16] at the northern end of the backbeach prior to the construction of a row of new village houses. An L-shaped block of three trenches (65 m2) produced the first in situ early historical kiln structure, as well as deposits dating to the Song, Six Dynasties–Tang, and Bronze Age. The very worn condition of much Bronze Age pottery suggested that most, if not all, had been redeposited from the plateau/slopes above, seemingly by multiple episodes of downslope erosion.

In the early 2000s, a planned programme of utilities improvements in Sha Po Old Village prompted a series of AMO-commissioned investigations along footpaths in the area. First, in 2001, a single small trench [17] produced a familiar pattern of somewhat mixed upper layers with kiln debris, Song–Ming and Six

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Plate 8: Photo montage of the 2002 investigations (clockwise from top left): Unit 6 excavation looking towards Sha Po Old Village; Kiln K3 structure, kiln debris, and lime fragments in Unit 7.3; prehistoric stone arm-ring in Unit 6.1; Kiln K2 wall in Unit 7.1; prehistoric coarseware sherd in Unit 6.3.

(p.24) Dynasties–Tang material, followed by layers with Bronze Age and then Later Neolithic artefacts.26 That isolated trench was followed in 2002 by a much more extensive programme of testing within footpaths across the backbeach [18–24]. Despite the narrowness of most of the corridors involved and the high levels of recent historical-modern disturbance, a number of important discoveries were made, most notably, two Six Dynasties–Tang kiln structures in Unit 7 [23].27 At lower levels in Units 4–7 and 9 [20–23 and 24 respectively], though, were apparently undisturbed Later Neolithic layers reflecting the aforementioned rich Neolithic deposit found in 1994 [12]. Similarly, the Bronze Age activity noted that year was also reflected in contiguous areas: to the west of the same property in Unit 6 were two possible burials, while a further Bronze Age focus was noted to the north-east in Units 6 and 9 [22b and 24]. A few Middle Neolithic red painted pottery sherds found in the same unit [22] should perhaps be seen as outliers of the deposit noted in 1994. One final discovery of interest was a large deposit of later Qing pottery that had seemingly been tipped down the rear face of the backbeach [24].28

Another opportunity to assess the modern status of Finn’s plateau site arose when a housing development was planned to the north of 22–23 Sha Po New Village [30], which was immediately upslope of the small test pit excavated in the early 1980s [29]. A series of thirteen test pits were excavated within the 570 m2 site, giving a total excavation area of 68.5 m2.29 Recent agricultural activity was found to have truncated prehistoric deposits along the rear and front edge of each terrace, but in between was an in situ cultural layer with frequent Bronze Age pottery and stone artefacts.30 Finn’s site therefore clearly still existed and, moreover, the discovery of fifteen post-holes at the base of the cultural layer suggested it may have been a rare Bronze Age settlement site, possibly with stilt-houses. That same year another plot just to the west was also earmarked for housing development [25] and an L-shaped pattern of three trenches totalling 56 m2 in area was excavated in advance of construction. A further forty-nine post-holes were found—again at the base of the Bronze Age cultural horizon—therefore suggesting a settlement extending some distance across the south-facing flank of the plateau. A sizeable assemblage of stone artefacts, representing all stages of ornament manufacture, strongly supported Finn’s earlier claim for the existence of a stone ornament workshop.31 The pottery comprised types commonly found on the backbeach and thus indicated that the plateau and backbeach sites were probably in contemporary use, but perhaps reserved for different activities (of which more in Chapter 5).

In October to November 2004 a pair of trenches was excavated close to what was thought to be the former seaward face of the early historical backbeach [26 and 27].32 The uppermost of two cultural layers was dated to the Song dynasty and produced a finds assemblage including green glazed celadon pottery, part of an iron hoe blade (cha), a fragment of a rare Shang dynasty stone ritual object or zhang, and three fragments of human skull suggesting the disturbance of a burial of unknown date.33 The second cultural layer spanned the Sui to Tang dynasties and included good examples of pottery of the former period. Interestingly, the Song layer produced spreads of shells, mammal, and fish bones suggestive of midden deposits, while similar materials were found in rubbish pits cutting into the Sui–Tang layer. A few Later Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery sherds were found admixed with historical material but in situ prehistoric deposits were not identified.34

Then between 2008 and 2010 a series of seven rescue excavations (AA1–AA7) were conducted across the backbeach in advance of a major scheme of mains sewerage and water main installation [31–37 respectively].35 In addition, approximately 390 m of pipe trench—subdivided into ten blocks (coded A–J)—were subjected to archaeological monitoring (watching brief)36 during construction phase groundworks [38–47 respectively]. Despite widespread modern disturbance, a number of important discoveries were made, most notably as follows: in rescue excavations AA5D and AA5G, which bisected an area rich in previous findings of kiln debris, two Six Dynasties–Tang kiln structures (K4 and K5 respectively) were (p.25) unearthed [34], while in watching brief Area ‘B’ [39], just south of kiln K1, another Six Dynasties–Tang kiln (K6) was found with a fired clay ‘working floor’ (K7). The survival of the two structures under Yung Shue Wan Back Street was quite surprising given that utilities disturbance extended in places to a depth of 1.2 m below surface. Associated with the kilns were Six Dynasties–Tang cultural layers, which were sealed by kiln post-abandonment spreads containing a mixture of Tang, Northern Song, and Southern Song–Yuan pottery.37 Another late Qing ceramics dump, similar to that noted in 2003 [24], was encountered a few metres further to the north in trench AA6 [36]. The main foci of Bronze Age activity were in trench AA3 [35] and adjoining watching brief Area ‘A’ [38]—both perhaps at the outer edge of the substantial hill-washed deposit noted to the north-west [16]—and in trench AA5A-F [34] near the important deposits found in 1989 and 1994. Later Neolithic activity was widely evidenced but had particular concentrations down the eastern side of the backbeach in AA1, AA2, AA4, and AA6 [31, 32, 33, and 36 respectively]. With the exception of AA6, Bronze Age deposits also broadly mirror this patterning,

How We Know about Ancient Sha Po

Plate 9: Photo montage of the 2008–10 investigations (clockwise from top left): Area ‘B’ watching brief, Kiln K4 in trench AA5D, excavation at AA5A, adze rough-out and Bronze Age coarse geometric pot both at AA5B, archaeologist examining findings during watching brief Area ‘B’

(p.26) thus further confirming that the backbeach originated to the east and then advanced to the west with the gradual accumulation of sand.

The two most recent investigations occurred ahead of housing development in 2010 on the plateau [28] and in 2012 at the very heart of the prehistoric backbeach [48]. The 2010 excavation revealed a cultural layer and further post-holes indicating a clear continuation of the Bronze Age settlement site found in 2001 and 2003–4.38 The 2012 investigation revealed a 1.8 m deep sequence of backbeach deposits with traces of earlier historical kiln debris mixed with later historical pottery above a Bronze Age layer with pits cutting into an underlying Later Neolithic horizon.39

Learning from Sha Po: Reflections on Past Practice

Sha Po’s historiography

Sha Po is one small, but important, part of Hong Kong’s archaeologically rich island-coastal environment. Since the earliest times, human subsistence, settlement, and associated activities have been focused around the coastline and areas immediately inland. The Sha Po experience, however, offers insights into a number of important questions concerning different aspects of archaeological heritage and its management within the region.

We saw above how archaeological sites and materials on Lamma came to the attention of early pioneers such as Finn due to a combination of agricultural activity and sand quarrying, as well as natural processes of erosion. From the earliest days, then, impacts of one form or another were destroying and, at the same time, revealing archaeological treasures. The main innovation today is that such impacts are generally more effectively managed using archaeological mitigation measures. More recent discoveries have thus resulted from archaeological investigations carried out in advance of housing developments or as part of programmes of infrastructural improvement. Not surprisingly, since the 1930s the legislative, methodological, and intellectual frameworks governing archaeological work in Hong Kong have changed dramatically. Constants do however exist; development has always impacted upon buried archaeology in the territory and archaeologists—whether amateurs, professionals, or government officers—have had to respond. The above historiography of Sha Po fieldwork offers many excellent examples of Hong Kong archaeology in action. Investigations have occurred at Sha Po in all stages of Hong Kong’s eighty-plus years of archaeological history: pioneering amateurs, local societies, and professional archaeologists have all played their part—whether conducting ‘antiquarian collecting’, research or rescue excavations, or monitoring pipe trenches during watching briefs—and all have contributed to the Sha Po story. It is thus a story which, on so many levels, serves to represent Hong Kong archaeology in microcosm.

Problems and potentials

The Sha Po sites, like many others in Hong Kong, have less than perfect histories of investigation, management, and publication, but the same could be said of archaeological sites in many places the world over. However, rather than dwelling on past imperfections which, given Hong Kong’s development-driven economy, could certainly have been far worse if archaeology had not achieved the prominence it did during the later colonial and post-colonial periods, we should instead embrace the possibilities presented by the data we do have. We therefore hope to demonstrate through this book that in spite of—or rather as a result of—Hong Kong’s intensity of development, the territory has a great deal to offer archaeologically and Sha Po provides one of the most fascinating chapters in the story.

(p.27) One of the main objectives of this project was to attempt to demonstrate that Hong Kong’s site archives, despite often being fragmentary and inconsistent in nature, were nonetheless a rich and significant resource that, if used creatively, might yield a significant research dividend. Sha Po, with its chequered history of multiple excavators, a myriad of excavation and recording methodologies, varying degrees of disturbance, and very patchy reporting and publication exemplifies this state of affairs. But to take disturbance as an example, during the 2008–10 utilities-related project, there were relatively few well-preserved pockets of stratified deposits beneath footpaths; however, the findings within these long corridors helped to ‘tie together’ discrete patches of better preserved archaeology recorded in locations excavated ahead of housing development. Thus by mitigating the impacts of government infrastructure projects at Sha Po, a series of supporting data sets now exist that allow something approaching a more holistic, multi-period ‘landscape’ study of human activity on the backbeach and plateau to be attempted.

That approach will be applied in Part II and, in particular, Part III of the book, but before exploring cultural developments in Hong Kong and Sha Po, we must first understand the environmental context within which they occurred. Therefore in the final chapter of Part I we explore the development of the Hong Kong and Sha Po landscape, beginning in the built-up present and then peeling back the layers to eventually reveal the pristine environment encountered by Sha Po’s Middle Neolithic fisher-hunter-foragers at around 4500 BCE.



(1.) Map 5 shows the location plan of all forty-eight areas investigated—either research digs, rescue excavations, or watching briefs—and when discussed below the relevant area number, and context/layer if applicable, will appear in square brackets in text (e.g., [44] or [44:01]). The reader can then refer to the figure as a means of ‘navigating’ their way horizontally across the site and vertically through the multi-period landscape.

(2.) Geoffrey A. C. Herklots, ‘Obituary. The Rev. Father Daniel J. Finn, S.J.’, The Hong Kong Naturalist 7 (3–4) (1936): 269–70.

(3.) C. M. Heanley and J. L. Shellshear, ‘A Contribution to the Prehistory of Hong Kong and the New Territories’, in Praehistorica Asiae Orientalis (Hanoi: s.n., 1932), 63–76.

(4.) Daniel J. Finn, ‘Archaeological Finds on Lamma Island near Hong Kong, Part I’, The Hong Kong Naturalist 3 (3–4) (1932): 226.

(5.) Ibid.; Walter Schofield, An Archaeological Site at Shek Pik (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Archaeological Society, 1972): 162–63.

(6.) Daniel J. Finn, ‘Archaeological Finds on Lamma Island near Hong Kong, Part XIII’, The Hong Kong Naturalist 7 (3–4) (1936c): 257–58.

(8.) Chen Kung-che, ‘Archaeological Excavations in Hong Kong’, Acta Archaeologica Sinica 4 (1957): 4.

(9.) William Meacham, The Archaeology of Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009), 34.

(10.) Solomon M. Bard, ‘Archaeology in Hong Kong: A Review of Achievement’, in Conference on Archaeology in Southeast Asia, ed. Yeung Chun-tong and Li Wai-ling (Hong Kong: University Museum and Art Gallery, the University of Hong Kong, 1995), 384.

(11.) James Watt, ‘Excavations at Yung Shu Wan, November, 1967’, JHKAS I (1968): 36.

(12.) The Small House Policy was enacted in 1972 and affords every male ‘indigenous villager’ from a ‘recognised village’ a grant to build one small house on the village’s land (‘a male person at least 18 years old who is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognised village, an entitlement to one concessionary grant during his lifetime to build one small house’), at http://www.landsd.gov.hk/en/legco/house.htm.

(13.) Ho Ching-hin, ‘Sha Po Tsuen’, JHKAS IV (1973): 19–20.

(14.) The Neolithic in Hong Kong is conventionally recognised to have early and late stages to both its Middle Neolithic and Late Neolithic periods. Only a small amount of early stage Middle Neolithic material was found at Sha Po but, in contrast, large quantities of late stage Late Neolithic material have been uncovered. Therefore, in the interests of simplicity the late stage Late Neolithic is shortened throughout this chapter to ‘Later Neolithic’.

(15.) Tracey Lie-Dan Lu, ‘The Management of Cultural Heritage in Hong Kong’, Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Occasional Paper No. 137 (2003): 11–12.

(16.) Brian A. V. Peacock and Taryn J. P. Nixon, ‘Report of the Hong Kong Archaeological Survey, Volumes I–III’ (unpublished report prepared for the Antiquities and Monuments Office, 1986), 116.

(17.) Nigel Spry, ‘Sha Po Tsuen’, JHKAS XII (1990): 7–28.

(18.) William Meacham, ‘Sha Po Tsuen’, JHKAS XIII (1993a): 36.

(23.) The archives for these two sites remain inaccessible due to copyright issues. Our discussion of the findings is therefore based upon the brief summaries of results available for study at the Hong Kong Archaeological Society and AMO Discovery Centre.

(24.) AMO, ‘Sha Po Old Village, Lamma Island, 1997’ (unpublished excavation report, 1997).

(25.) The Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO 1998) heralded a new ‘commercial’ era in Hong Kong archaeology whereby developers—either private or government departments—were expected to allow time and provide funds for archaeological investigations ahead of developments where archaeological resources were known or likely to be impacted. A number of archaeological consultancies were established at that time or soon afterwards to take advantage of the commercial opportunities provided by the new law, and such companies competitively tender for impact assessment work.

(26.) Field Archaeological Co., ‘Footpath Excavation at Sha Po Tsuen, Lamma Island’ (unpublished excavation report, 2001).

(27.) Archaeological Assessments Ltd., ‘Sha Po Tsuen Rescue Excavation’ (unpublished excavation report, 2003).

(28.) Ibid. Whether this deposit was the result of a gradually accumulating rubbish tip or a major clearance and dumping event is unclear.

(29.) Au Ka-fat and Raymond Lee, ‘Archaeological Investigation at Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island, 2000–2001’ (unpublished report, 2001).

(31.) Finn, ‘Lamma Island, Part XII’, 259; C. J. Liu, ‘Excavation on the Ancient Site at Sha Po Tsuen, Lamma Island, Hong Kong’, Kaogu 6 (2007): 14–15.

(32.) ERM, ‘Rescue Excavation at Small House Lot No. 1575s.B. in D.D. 3 at Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island’ (unpublished excavation report, 2005).