Public Lecture: Digging the Urban Landscape

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this upcoming talk at the National Museum of Singapore.

Digging the Urban Landscape: Complexities of Interpreting and Presenting Archaeology in London and Singapore
Frank Meddens and Lim Chen Sian
Date and Time: 26 November 2014, 7pm
Venue: The Salon, National Museum of Singapore
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Fort Tanjong Katong, 10 years on

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Unearthed bastion of Fort Tanjong Katong. Source: Going Places Singapore.

A web feature on the Fort Tanjong Katong excavation in Singapore, featuring an interview with Lim Chen Sian of the Archaeology Unit at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre. I have a personal connection with this site as well, since Fort Tanjong Katong was one of the sites I volunteered at very early in my career.

Unearthed bastion of Fort Tanjong Katong. Source: Going Places Singapore.

Unearthed bastion of Fort Tanjong Katong. Source: Going Places Singapore.

Raising a forgotten fort
Going Places, 05 September 2014
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Public Lecture: Shopping in Ancient SG: What the Archaeology of Victoria Concert Hall & Victoria Theatre Tells us

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Lim Chen Sien from the National University of Singapore will present the findings from recent excavations at Singapore’s Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

Victoria Theatre
photo credit: alantankenghoe

Shopping in Ancient SG: What the Archaeology of Victoria Concert Hall & Victoria Theatre Tells us
Date: 03 December 2011
Venue: National Library of Singapore, Level 5, Possibility Room
Registration required
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Archaeology unit set up in Singapore

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At long last, an archaeology unit has been set up in Singapore, as part of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies based in the National University of Singapore. The unit, run by Dr. John Miksic and Lim Chen Sian.

Singapore’s first formal archaeology unit
The Straits Times, 23 April 2010
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Public Lecture: Archaeology of Your Family

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Budding archaeologists in Singapore might look no further than in your very own storeroom! Catch Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian this Saturday at the Singapore National Library about the Archaeology of Your Family. Register at this website.

Date/Time: Saturday Jul 4, 2:00pm – 4:00pm
Venue: The Plaza in National Library Building

Remember that moth eaten battered suitcase that used to sit under the bed? How about that ceramic dish with tacky floral prints? Recall that toothpaste did not always come in a tube? Was toothpaste the preferred oral cleaning agent in the first place? Strange as it may seem, but in a relatively short period of a decade or quarter century has removed much from the living memory, yet there are many when prompted who will still vividly recall the not so distance past.

Join archaeologist Lim Chen Sian as he takes you on a trail of discovering artifacts, the past and lost memories of your own family! Grandmother’s Storeroom is a fun filled workshop for the anyone (particular the parent and child) to explore and uncover their own family history through the artifacts found beneath the dust in the family (or Grandmother’s) storeroom. Archaeology isn’t just for crusty old fogies poking about in dirt, be enthralled as you investigate the odd curios and bits found within your own home!

Workshop includes a slide lecture on archaeological research, archaeological recording sheets, “Storeroom Archaeology Booklet”, instructor’s demonstration kits/trunks.

A rare photograph of Fort Tanjong Katong

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Last month, The Wellcome Trust released their image archives for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons license in a new website, Wellcome Images. While this online picture library primarily specialises in medical history and the biomedical sciences, there are also a few gems from its historical collection, such as this, a picture of Fort Tanjong Katong, highlighted to me by acroamatic.

This is quite an exciting find because until now, there hasn’t been a photograph of Fort Tanjong Katong available, particularly since the site was excavated a few years ago.

Fort Tanjong Katong was built in Singapore in 1879 as a response to perceived gap in the defence grid on the eastern part of Singapore Town. By erecting a battery at the mouth of the Kallang River, Fort Tanjong Katong placated the fears of the local merchant community fearful of an enemy ship sailing into the Kallang River and lobbying shells into the city.

Initially armed with three 7-inch cannons, these were soon rendered obsolete because of improvements in ship armour. Later in 1886, the fort was refitted with two 8-inch breach-loading guns, better than its predecessors, but far below the two 9-inch and one 10-inch cannon that were initially requested for the upgrade. Worse still, the land on which the fort was built was sandy and unstable, making it necessary for the gunners to reclibrate their weapons after every shot. Needless to say, the fort was not effective as a weapons platform as much as it was a psychological placation to the local community. In the early 1900s, it was decided that the fort was to be abandoned, presumably razed, and the site was converted into a public park.

In 2002, the fort was “rediscovered” by a local who lived opposite the park who noticed a difference in the colour of grass, showing the outline of a structure underneath. Excavations of the fort in 2004 and 2005 revealed portions of the moat, fortification wall, drawbridge structure and bastions. (You can download a copy of the Fort Tanjong Katong site report here.) Excavations were aided by copies of the fort’s 1886 plan that were available at the Public Records Office in the UK, but were hampered by the a lack of any photograph of what the fort looked like when it was sanding. In fact, most modern artists impressions of the fort looked like this:

NParks artist’s impression

Which brings us back to the Wellcome Trust picture, which was taken by John Edmund Taylor in 1880. The picture throws up more questions than answers:

What part of the fort is shown in the picture?
According to the Wellcome Trust, the picture was taken in 1880, which was a year after the fort was erected and would be armed with the three 7-inch guns. Judging from the walls, it would look like this picture was taken from the interior of the fort which would lead us to question 2…

Which angle was the picture taken from?
While the prospect of the cannons resting atop the two “hills” are tantalisingly intriguing, the lack of cannons and the palm trees in the background would seem to imply that we are facing inland. The bent wall structure also betrays no clues about which part of the fort this could be – it does not match any of the shape of the walls that were unearthed during the 2004-2005 excavation.

So what did Fort Tanjong Katong really look like?
Taylor’s picture certainly throws an interesting light to what (part of) the fort looked like in its heyday and it has thrown some assumptions out of the window. Perhaps it is too early to say “we’ll never know…” and some other photographic archive might shed some more light to this issue.

13 July 2007 update: After speaking with archaeologist Lim Chen Sian, he agrees that the layout looks like the interior of the fort, with the doorway to the left probably leading to the shell store, while the other door leading to the artillery store. He believes that the sand ramp in the middle of the two “hills” leads to the gun emplacement, which would mean that this picture was taken facing the sea, although it still doesn’t explain the coconut trees in the background.

Interview with a Singaporean archaeologist

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8 May 2007 (Radio Singapore International) – RSI’s series Discovering Singapore, features an interview with Singaporean archaeologist Lim Chen Sian, about what archaeologists do, and what’s there to find in Singapore.

Archaeology in Singapore

Would you believe that beneath the concrete jungles of cosmopolitan Singapore, we can find white sand dating back to the republic’s early days of Sang Nila Utama? Or even the discovery of forts that probably existed during the British colonial era?

Just some of the unusual discoveries by Singapore’s rare breed of archaeologists like Lim Chen Sian. With their trusty digging tools, these archaeologists attempt to uncover more behind Singapore’s rich historical past.

But what does an archaeologist in Singapore really do? And are there really that many treasures to dig up in the republic?

Read and listen to the interview here.

Related Books:
Early Singapore 1300s – 1819: Evidence in Maps, Text and Artefacts by J. N. Miksic and C. Low (Eds)

Lost Cities and Forgotten Past: The Archaeology of Singapore

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A talk about the archaeology of Singapore by Lim Chen Sian, one of the brains behind Chen (as he is commonly known) has been the backbone in a number of local excavations here in Singapore, and he has a treasure trove of anecdotes to share.

Lost Cities and Forgotten Past: The Archaeology of Singapore
30 Mar 2007
7 – 8 pm
Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, Ngee Ann Auditorium

Lim Chen Sian, Researcher
Archaeology has always sparked the imagination, conjuring up images of lost cities and buried treasures of the past. How do archaeologists know where to look? What are the tools employed to assist them in their search for answers in the past? Is there anything in Singapore to dig up? Unbeknownst to many, archaeologists have been quietly digging up Singapore for the past two decades. Join us for an evening of tales from the field and learn about the wonderful world of archaeology in our own back yard.

Related Books:
Early Singapore 1300s – 1819: Evidence in Maps, Text and Artefacts by J. N. Miksic and C. Low (Eds)
Archaeology (A Guide to the collection / National Museum, Singapore) by the National Museum Singapore