Major archaeological dig underway at Empress Place

A celadon bowl with a fish motif that is 700 years old. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
A celadon bowl with a fish motif that is 700 years old. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
Pieces of ceramic found at the dig. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
Pieces of ceramic found at the dig. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
A volunteer at work at a major archaeological dig at Empress Place, which occupies an area the size of 10 four-room flats. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
A volunteer at work at a major archaeological dig at Empress Place, which occupies an area the size of 10 four-room flats. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS

SINGAPORE - A major archaeological dig is underway at Empress Place, with 2m-deep pits dug across a 1,000 sq m area about the size of 10 four-room flats.

So far, ceramics such as a porcelain headless Buddha statue, a clay figurine of what looks like a bird, as well as beads from India have been found. Most of these date back to the 14th century.

They form part of a 400kg haul unearthed by a team from the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies since work started on Feb 2.

The project organised by the National Heritage Board hopes to unearth artefacts from the Temasek period to Singapore's early colonial days, to add to the understanding of the Republic's early beginnings.

The excavation, which ends on April 9, is part of the board's effort to commemorate 31 years of archaeology in Singapore.

Mr Lim Chen Sian, lead archaeologist for the project and research fellow at the centre, said he welcomes the opportunity to excavate as such efforts are usually rare in a small and highly urbanised country like Singapore.

"Empress Place was the location of a thriving port in the early days, and any new discovery will hopefully advance our understanding of Singapore's earliest beginnings," said Mr Lim.

The country started paying more attention to archaeology in the 1980s, with the first major dig taking place at Fort Canning Hill.

Significant finds from this latest dig in front of Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall will either go on display in future exhibitions or be incorporated into the national collection.

melodyz@sph.com.sg