This island nation was a port city in both ancient and modern times. Singapore is a city-state located on the southern tip of the Malayan peninsula. The former British colony was founded on the basis of its historical significance amongst the Malay kingdoms in the region, a significance that has since been proven through archaeology. Most of pre-colonial archaeology is centred around the civic district of Singapore such as Fort Canning and Empress Place. Historical archaeology is another area of frequent research.
The earliest evidence for a settlement or polity in Singapore dates to the 14th century, where it was identified in ancient times as Temasek or Tumasik in the Malay Annals and the Nagarakretagama, and also as Dam-Ma-Hsi in the Chinese Mao Kun map. Temasek was a port settlement in Singapore located on the banks of the Singapore River, with a possible palace site at present-day Fort Canning Hill. The settlement lost its prominence at the start of the 15th century, when the last ruler of Singapore Iskandar Shah fled to Malacca and established the Malacca Sultanate.
Singapore regained prominence at the start of the 19th century, when Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived to establish the British colony in 1819. Singapore’s strategic location eventually made it the seat of The Straits Settlements, an administrative body administered by the British government since 1826. The colony’s strategic location on the Strait of Malacca meant it was used as a supply base and lifeline between Britain and colonial possessions in India, China and the East Indies. After World War II, Singapore joined the Federation of Malaya (later Malaysia), but became its own independent nation in 1965.
The archaeology of Singapore is largely focused in two time periods : pre-colonial and colonial. Pre-colonial archaeology focuses on the 14th-century settlements of Singapore, while colonial archaeology covers the time period of 1819 to 1965. Systematic archaeological research in Singapore only began in 1984 under the pioneering work by Prof. John Miksic. Today, archaeological research in Singapore is largely undertaken by the Temasek History Research Centre and the National Heritage Board.
Densely populated and highly urbanised, there are not many surviving archaeological sites in Singapore – but that doesn’t mean there are none! Not all of these sites in this list are open to the public, and the locations marked on the map may not be exact. For more information about museums in Singapore, check out the museum page here.
Fort Canning: It can be argued that Singaporean archaeology began with excavations at Fort Canning Hill with John Miksic’s excavations in 1984. Large amounts of pottery were recovered from the site, confirming occupation from at least the 14th century.
Empress Place: Singapore’s Civic District would have been the location of the ancient trading port. Numerous excavations in the area, in the vicinity of the National Art Gallery, the old Parliamant House and the Asian Civilisations Museum yielded dense deposits of artefacts from the 14th century.
Singapore Stone: This inscribed boulder, located at the mouth of the Singapore River, was known for its Indic inscriptions. It was blown up by the colonial authorities in 1843 to widen the mouth of the river. A fragment is on display at the National Museum of Singapore.
Fort Tanjong Katong: This 19th century fort was the easternmost defensive position of old Singapore town. Excavations in 2004-2005 revealed the remains of the fort’s bastions and other foundations.
St Andrew’s Cathedral: Another important site for pre-colonial Singapore, located near and old freshwater stream and the ancient fortification wall of Singapore (Temasek). Over 1,000 kg of artefacts were recovered, mostly from the Temasek period.
Pedra Branca shipwrecks: In 2022, a pair of shipwrecks were announced, found in the vicinity of Pedra Branca. One shipwrekc, the Shah Muncher, was wrecked in 1796, while the second wreck dates to the 14th century.
There are a numerous books relevant to the archaeology and history of Singapore, and the list below is my personal recommendation based on what I have in my library or have read, and are easily available. There are some local-language publications that are not available in the internet, and newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.
The news reports indexed below usually link to external sites that were active at the time of posting; sometimes websites may be temporarily down or may have reorganised their underlying architecture or have even closed down – in these cases the links may not be available. Most of the news articles archived are in English; although when I am made aware of stories in this and other languages I try to index them.
These are links to external sites and unless stated, I have no connection with the organisations or entities in these links or control over their content. They are sorted alphabetically, but you should also explore the Resources page which have links sorted by themes. If you have a link to suggest, please get in touch!
700years.sg – An interactive website that brings seven centuries of Singapore history to life through the imagined social feeds of 25 historical characters across different time periods.
History.sg – An online resource guide by the National Library of Singapore.
Maritime Explorations – Maritime Explorations is a Singapore-based salvage and project coordination company specialising in historical shipwrecks.
National Heritage Board – The National Heritage Board undertakes the roles of safeguarding and promoting the heritage of our diverse communities, for the purpose of education, nation-building and cultural understanding.
NUS Museum – Featuring an Archaeology Library of finds from digs across Singapore.
Roots.sg – Digital portal to Singapore’s cultural heritage, by the National Heritage Board
SEA-ARK – This resource page disseminates published and unpublished reports pertinent to the pursuit of Southeast Asian Archaeology. Hosted in the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre (now Temasek History Research Centre) in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
Spatial Discovery – A collection of over 3,000 maps from the last 200 years organised by the National Library of Singapore.
Temasek History Research Centre – The Temasek History Research Centre (THRC) was established at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in 2019. THRC will focus on Singapore’s premodern history, its economic and socio-cultural links to the region, as well as its historical role as a trading centre.