Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon


A photo of a photo of a torn map of Kampong Saigon...

Last year whilst at the library, I copied out a list from Jennifer Barry's "Pulau Saigon : a post-eighteenth century archaeological assemblage recovered from a former island in the Singapore River". I completely forgot about this document but just unearthed it today, so I thought I should put it online in case anyone should be interested in the "OTHER ARTEFACTS" list found in this little catelogue of artefacts, including a detailed list of ceramics finds, and flora and fauna. As the ceramics and flora/fauna lists are very very long and detailed, I will leave it up to those who are interested to locate the book at the National Library of Singapore (Lee Kong Chien Reference Library, English 959.57 BAR) and read those portions for themselves.

I wanted to purchase or request for a copy of this book but it seems impossible to track down the publisher, Rheidol Press, and they either have ceased to exist or do not have any sort of online presence at all. No copyright infringement intended here by reproducing part of the text here, but it seems impossible to even find or contact them to even ask for the permission. Short of writing to their postal address in Stamford (which conceivably could have changed by now), there are no other leads or clues or ways to contact them (although I suppose I will try to write to them to see what happens). I have never even been to Lincolnshire nor have I ever thought of going there, and I find the idea of an obscure book about Singapore's own little-known Pulau Saigon being published there very strange indeed.

I have retained all the author's original typos in the following copy of the list - this is exactly as it was on the page.

From Jennifer Barry's "Pulau Saigon : a post-eighteenth century archaeological assemblage recovered from a former island in the Singapore River"


Archaeological finds began to appear at Pulau Saigon in 1988 when bulldozers first moved in to start work on the Central Expressway tunnel. Tan family members who owned the petrol kiosk on the island brought this to the attention of Mr Koh Lian What who in turn alerted authorities at the National Museum and the National University. A prompt rescue operation was organized and a team of expert, including Dr C. G. Kwa, Mr Lee Chor Lin, Dr J. Miksic and Mr Koh, was permitted to collect finds and soil samples. Collections were made between November 1988 and March 1980 but no systematic archaeological excavation could be undertaken due to constraints of time.


Broadly speaking the site covers the 170 years from the early 19th to the late 20th century, the period between the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and the initial construction in 1988 of the tunnel at Clemenceau Bridge. The bulk of ceramic finds are generally consistent with this time frame, up to about the mid 1960s, although there are a few sherds which pre-date the 19th century.

Apart from ceramic, which accounts for the greater part of the entire assemblage, finds include artifacts of glass, bone, metal, wood, stone, plastic and rubber as well as faunal and floral remains. These include a large group of marine shells identified by Mrs Emily Glover of the Natural History Museum, London. There are eleven species of gastropods and give of shallow water burrowing bivalves, two of which are often found in mangroves. All are common to the Singapore area and many are widespread in the Indo-Pacific. Glover notes that the small holes in many of the examples were drilled by predatory mullscs and not by humans, confirming Koh's view that there was no prehistoric habitation of the site. This possibility had been proposed during the early stages of the rescue.

(…) Before 1889 one would expect that, generally, the deeper finds would be the oldest; yet some of the more recent finds are below 2 and 3 meters of mud, such as the coins dated 1926 and 1883 respectively. A late 19th or early 20th century Doulton square-mouthed stoneware bottle was found at 2m depth. This clearly indicates massive disturbances which, no doubt, had been caused by the dredging of the river, and the subsequent use of this archaeologically rich material as landfill.


Asbestos: 2
 6 small (3 red, 2 blue, 1 yellow, in film roll container)
 40 approx. (in plastic bag)
 1 bone or ivory with black bristles
 1 bone or ivory toothbrush with white bristles
 2 bone or ivory toothbrush handles
 1 carved tortoishell? handle
 1 wood bristle base
 1 wood handle
Corks: 3
Electrical fittings:
 3 white ceramic
 1 bulb filament
 1 small glass bulb
 1 small battery
 1 belt hook (s or snakes-head shape)
 1 bolt
 1 brass lid
 1 buckle
 1 button
 1 cigarette holder
 8 copper coins (Straits Settlement 1884, 1887, 1894)
 2 coins (1 round, 1 square)
 1 door furniture?
 1 fish hook
 1 lamp base? (corroded)
 4 lead pieces plus ore workings
 7 nails plus fragments
 1 pin
 1 scale hands?
 1 wall hook
 1 spoon (European type)
 1 bakelite threaded neck
 2 pink fragments
 1 political party badge
 1 spoon (Chinese type)
 1 table tennis ball
 2 (degraded)
 1 cylindrical pounder
 8 white marble spheres plus one hemisphere
 2 dice (marble, limestone?)
 3 small (modern compound type)
 1 iron spike or pick, wood shaft
 1 iron bill-hook, wood shaft
 1 carved comb (fragile)
 1 broom or brush handle
 1 oar or paddle
 1 clog or shoe sole


Coal: 1
 3 flints
 1 flint knife? (previously labelled as such)
 8 flint tools?
 1 pyrite (also known as Fool's Gold)
 1 green stone
 1 piece of lava or pumice
 24 slate plus 3 knives (previously labelled as such)
 35 small smooth pebbles
 1  worked stone?
 1 quartz (rock crystal)

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