We’re in a two metre deep pit, with an archaeology trowel in one hand and a dust pan in the other, ready to attack the one metre pile of dirt in front of us. We had already dug through 30centimetres worth of gravel – made up of cement and sand I believe – and barely found anything save for an occasional piece of ceremic n some old plaster. I learn that the section I was digging was not old, probably not more than a few decades old since it was previously dug up for telephone line laying purposes.
Dust pan and archaeology trowel
Another volunteer hard at work. Notice the grey band? That's the 30 cm gravel we had to dig through.
Some of the things we found
One of the two pits we were working on that day
Undug portions of the area
With me for company was a First Year Arts student from a local university. Other volunteers included an Archaeology exchange student from Australia, a recent graduate from a local polytechnic who was interested in taking up Southeast Asian Studies at a local university, and some members of “Southeast Asian archaeology” I believe. One volunteer had even taken two weeks of leave off work to be part of this meaningful exercise. Another man had stumbled upon the site, walked in for a chat, and for the next one to two hours began digging away.
Some of the volunteers
This group of people have been at this for a couple of days, while this was the first time I was joining them. My back was starting to ache, and my hands were cramping up from the constant digging, while my fingers were starting to blister due to the roughness of the gloves against the skin. I begin to wonder how they could do this everyday without a rest day. I look around and see two volunteers digging and chatting at the same time, completely unperturbed that their clothes were gradually becoming a shade of soil-brown. I look down at my own clothes, and saw that it was still as good as new. “I must not be working hard enough,” I thought to myself.
As I continue to dig, I imagine a whole pit full of 14th century vases waiting for me to discover them. It has always been a childhood dream to become an archaeologist but I’ve never found the means to becoming one, especially not in Singapore. I’ve always dreamed of ‘hanging out’ with King Tut and his ‘mummy’ friends, as well as sweeping 2,000 year old Vesuvius-ian ash off the perfectly preserved bodies of Pompeii; digging here in between two of urban Singapore’s oldest buildings – the Former Supreme Court and the Old City Hall – is the closest I’ve ever been to becoming an archaeologist, and probably the closest I’ll ever be.
The Archaeology site
After six hours of digging an approximate 2 by 1 by 1 metre space, this was all that was found:
Some rusted nails and bolts, blue and white European/Chinese ceramic pieces (could not be identified at that time), Fourteenth century water jugs, celedon pieces, a mouth-blown glass bottle mouth piece, Twentieth century machine-made glass bottle pieces. Not a lot for a day’s work, but still giving a little insight into the life of present, colonial, and Temasek (pre-Raffles) Singapore.
This is the actual sand of Singapore's beach of the past. Legend says that Sang Nila Utama was allured by the white beaches of Singapore at that time. The City Hall area has been built on top of this old beach. Thanks Chen for the mini History lesson.
Stratification of the soil. The area of the left is the "untouched" land of Singapore. The bottom-most is the old beach, the middle, soil that was placed on the beach when land was being build, and the above band, rocks that were placed for foundation for the roads. The right side is an area that had once been dug up to place piping.
More artefacts found
The green shards are pieces of celedon ware
It was fulfilling one day of digging and playing archaeologist. If you want to join in to help Singapore understand her past better, you can contact Chen (shien[at]seaarchaeology[dot]com) with your name,contact number n available timings. The dig goes on till 30 Nov (0930-1830 everyday, rain or shine, save for Mondays). For more information on the archaeological happenings in Singapore and on this dig click here and here respectively. I’ll be there again next Sunday (14 Nov) if you would care to join me.