Aaron Kao, Research Officer at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s Archaeology Unit, interviewed by Chinese Radio Capital 958 on ”Archaeology in Singapore”

23 May 2016. Chinese radio Capital 958FM carried a feature on archaeology in Singapore with soundbites from research officer Aaron Kao from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s Archaeology Unit and Ng Ching Huei, National Heritage Board (NHB) researcher.

Ng Chin Huei, who has participated in nine such projects, pointed out that the difference between archaeological excavations and treasure hunts is that the former heavily utilises scientific methods including documentation and recording so that the researchers may return to the site in future if necessary. He also shared on the first archaeological dig in Singapore at Fort Canning Hill in 1984, when the dig took place prior to the establishment of the NHB. On excavations carried out on private land, Capital 958FM noted that processes are under review, with Ng sharing that, in some such cases, landowners were happy to work with relevant agencies in opening up their sites for excavations, as long as requirements for safety and other infrastructural considerations were met.

Dig at Empress Place. Source: Archaeology Unit, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The largest and most recent dig was conducted last year at Empress Place, which yielded 2.5 tonnes of artefacts. Aaron Kao, who had worked on this project, explained that archaeological digs normally happen when there are eminent threats to the site due to major construction works. If there are no threats, archaeologists would recommend for the sites to be undisturbed. He said archaeologists are not against development, and stressed the importance of such digs in recovering any important historical artefacts on the sites before it is developed.

Kao also explained the post-excavation process such as washing, cataloguing and labelling the artefacts. He said while the museums will display the important artefacts, the rest will be held at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and at NUS, as there are currently no storage facilities for archaeological artefacts in Singapore. He also discussed the challenges faced by archaeologists in maintaining a consistent speed for excavation due to manpower restraints, and funding. In conclusion, Ng also shared his hope for public education on the topic to be strengthened.

Dig Conducted at Empress Place. Source: Archaeology Unit, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute