2. Macau and the Zhujiang Estuary

The history of Macau as a port, a Portuguese colony and a city is generally well recorded (Meacham 1995). However, until comparatively recently, less attention had been paid to the prehistory of Macau. Archaeological investigations began in 1972 and showed Macau to have a considerable history of human occupation, extending back probably at least to the Neolithic period. Tang Chung and Au Ka-fa (1991) have reviewed the archaeological finds from 23 important prehistoric sites situated across the Pearl Delta region. The relationship between the natural environment and prehistoric cultures distributed across, and beyond, the Pearl River Delta was discussed. More recently, Tang Chung and Cheng Wai-ming (1996) published the results of an archaeological investigation of Hac Sa. A large brick chambered tomb of the Han period (200 b.c. to 206 AD), in Hong Kong, discovered in 1955 during construction of a public housing estate, marks the beginning of the historical era; it is not clear what marks the start of the historical era in Macau.

Macau is situated in the south central part of Guangdong province, in the south-west of the Zhujiang estuary; Hong Kong lies 61km to the east. Yang Shiting (1998) notes that patterns of settlement and shifts in population in the Zhujiang estuary region during prehistoric times have been mainly based on studies of pottery. These studies clearly dispelled previous non-Chinese beliefs, that the coastal areas around the Zhujiang estuary were completely uncultivated prior to the arrival of European settlers. Compared to the wealth of archaeological evidence from sites in Hong Kong and the Zhujiang estuary, the archaeological potential of Macau is seriously under-researched.

2.1 Archaeological investigations at Hac Sa, Coloane and their significance

The two archaeological sites are situated on the east coast of Coloane, where the gently curved Hac Sa Bay has no natural coastal barriers. The sand dunes have been sub-divided into three layers, at the base of which is a red-coloured sandy clay. The water near the shore is around 2 to 3 metres deep. Evidence from five sand bars on Coloane (Ka Ho, Cheoc Van, Coloane Village, Hac Sa (South) and Hac Sa (North), suggests a Middle Neolithic to Late Neolithic period settlement date of between 1000 b.c. and 3500 b.c. The stone tools from the excavations at Hac Sa, detailed in Tables 1 and 2, support this view. Across the Zhujiang estuary region, an apparently favoured region for occupation during the Middle and Late Neolithic periods, was the tombolo island, formed by a sand bar linking two small land masses, typically formed at the mouths of small bays or lagoons (Meacham 1995). The two Hac Sa sites (North and South) lie between two granite outcrops, which provided shelter from the weather and waves. Previously, there was a shallow lagoon and small stream behind the sand bar which may have dried out later as a result of a drop in sea level. During the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age, the dependency on fishing in the Zhujiang estuary gave way to a rise in agriculture, and preference for the tombolo type of site declined. Elaborate rock carvings at different locations around the coast, many of them in remote and inaccessible locations, probably had ceremonial or religious significance. Mention is made in the literature to 'worshipping ceremonies on the (Hac Sa) sand bars' (Macau Art Museum 2003), but no clear evidence is provided. Collectively, the south-eastern coastal inhabitants were known to the Chinese as the Yueh barbarians; an Austro-Asiatic ethnographic affiliation for these people has been proposed.

The Hac Sa site was excavated in 1972, 1977, 1985, 1995, 2006 and 2007. Pottery, ground stone tools, whetstones and chipped stone tools, were found. The assemblage, which dated from between 4000 b.c. to 1500 b.c. is seen as fairly typical of a fishing/hunting community, and shows similarities with other discoveries from archaeological sites in the Zhujiang estuary, with which it may, or may not, have had connections (Taipa Museum 2006). Stone tools from the adjacent excavation, displayed in Zengpiyan Museum, Guilin (Chinese Academy of Social Science 2003), show some affinities with stone tools from Macau, and deserve closer inspection.

The Hac Sa (No. 2 South) site revealed two layers, comparatively rich in archaeological stone:

It is unusual for Middle Neolithic age sites of the Zhujiang estuary to have such well-preserved stratified deposits.

In 1972, 15 adzes and axes, fragments of a pointed implement, 64 pounding or beating implements, 30 whetstones and cylindrical polishing implements and 22 undetermined stone items were found. A quartz ring and matching core were excavated in 1977; 'sand inclusion ceramic axes' (Yang Shiting 1998, 25) were also reported, but not described. The 1985 excavation report recorded '36 pieces of quartz or igneous rock fragments' (Yang Shiting 1998, 25). Mention is made of 'the remains of a stone and jade ring workshop at Hac Sa ... 3000 to 4000 years ago, humans from the straits of Taiwan to the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent already formed a network with distinct cultural characteristics' (Yang Shiting 1998, 27). Further, Professor Zhang Guangzhi, an eminent Harvard professor, has commented on the discovery of a jade workshop in Macau, which dated from the Late Neolithic period. The jade objects made there included crystal rings, stone ring cores, unfinished blanks from which stone objects were made, stone fragments and stone carvings, in addition to the tools for sculpting and shaping rings, such as whetstones and stone hammers (Yang Shiting 1998, 28). Further, in the 5th stratum. weathered fragments of granite, considered by the excavator to have possibly been brought to the site by manual labour, were reported.

In the southern part of the Hac Sa site were found a sharpening stone with signs of wear, and a spinning stone; near Coloane village an incomplete ring and small scraping implement made from chalcedony were found; a complete T-shaped ring was found in Coloane, with sand inclusion ceramic axes and the remains of rims of jars (Yang Shiting 1998, 24-25).

In his excellent review of aspects of the archaeology of Macau, Yang Shiting (1998) summarises the archaeological evidence from the Upper and Lower layers of the Hac Sa (South) excavation as follows:


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