Veteran archaeologist to conduct six-week dig at Fort Canning.
Saturday, 1 September 2018, Straits Times
The lives of Singapore’s ancient rulers and people who worked in the royal Malay palace at Fort Canning Hill are being probed further by a pair of archaeologists.
Speaking to The Straits Times, veteran archaeologist John Miksic, 71, said he will be co-leading an excavation at the historic Fort Canning Park for six weeks from this weekend with Associate Professor Goh Geok Yian, 46. It will be Professor Miksic’s 13th dig at the park.
The National Parks Board invited Prof Miksic to conduct the dig as part of its overall restoration works at Fort Canning Park. This comes in the lead-up to Singapore’s bicentennial next year. The park will be the venue of the main bicentennial showcase.
The archaeologists will be assisted by a team of students and volunteers as they work in a large 10m by 5m pit near the park’s Spice Garden.
The area, which is also near the Registry of Marriages and the Keramat Iskandar Shah, has been interpreted as a 14th-century palace workshop after an earlier discovery of a “large charcoal feature” where iron tools were likely used.
Archaeologists had also found thousands of glass beads as well as small fragments of gold and clay crucibles at the site.
On the upcoming excavation, Prof Miksic said: “It is a significant site because it has the densest concentration of 14th-century artefacts in undisturbed soil anywhere on Fort Canning. We are likely to find a mixture of Chinese, Malay, South-east Asian, and Indian artefacts. The only question is whether we will find any new kinds of objects which we have not found before.”
The hill was once home to what was likely a large palatial complex dating back to the 14th century. A keramat or shrine was also located there – it was named after the last king of Singapura, Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah. He spent three years as king of Singapura before the island was invaded by the Majapahit empire at the turn of the 15th century. When Singapura fell, Iskandar Shah fled to Johor and eventually founded Melaka.
According to Prof Miksic’s book, Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800, an initial dig at Fort Canning in 1984 ascertained that the hill had been occupied in the 14th century. Pottery made in China during its Yuan dynasty was discovered there.
Next year, a dedicated heritage museum is set to open at the three-storey conserved Fort Canning Centre, and will include artefacts dug up from Prof Miksic’s earlier excavations there.
Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian said: “It’s a very large hill so the excavations conducted there so far are only the tip of the iceberg. There is potential to find more materials from the Temasek period. It would be nice to look back in time in the lead-up to the bicentennial.”
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent for The Straits Times