- Piecing Together Sha Po: Archaeological Investigations and Landscape Reconstruction by Mick Atha and Kennis Yip
Although from the perspective of the general public, Sha Po is a well-known holiday destination on Lamma Island, according to the authors of Piecing Together Sha Po, it is also a “microcosm” of Hong Kong archaeology (p. 26). Sha Po is more than a miniature version or passive reflection of Hong Kong archaeology, however: it is actually the cornerstone of the discipline, though somehow it remains marginalized and unnoticed against its commercial metropolitan setting. Father Daniel Finn’s surveys and excavations on Lamma Island, including Sha Po, almost 80 years ago marked the debut of Hong Kong archaeology. Few other sites in Hong Kong have been worked so constantly and extensively, and by as many generations of archaeologists oriented toward diverse theoretical and methodological frameworks, as has Sha Po. Yielding abundant remains from successive excavations, especially in the past two decades, the incomparable Sha Po site is significant not only to the academic discipline, but also to the general public as its findings reveal a complete and unique history of Hong Kong.
Regrettably, the fascinating history elaborated in Piecing Together Sha Po has not been told previously. This situation resulted from the nature of Hong Kong archaeology. As the authors indicate, reports on Sha Po present a complicated and sometimes confusing mixture of materials and interpretations because the site has been worked throughout the entire history of Hong Kong archaeology. Although Father Daniel Finn received training in archaeology (as happened during the initial stages of archaeology in many regions), archaeology at Sha Po, as well as that of Lamma Island and Hong Kong more broadly, remained a venture of amateurs and enthusiasts until it was handed over to professional [End Page 321] archaeologists in the 1950s. A team from the Hong Kong Society of Archaeology, headed by Solomon Bard and later William Meacham, excavated Sha Po extensively in the following decades. A more fundamental change in the nature of Sha Po archaeology was brought by the establishment of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) in 1976. It entailed that cultural heritage sites should be managed under the sponsorship of the government, but at the same time the archaeological surveys and excavations shifted toward commissioned archaeology (termed “contract,” “commercial,” or “salvage” archaeology in other places). The demand for archaeological work to be conducted at Sha Po has greatly increased since the 1970s as a result of village development processes, government infrastructure projects, and environmental impact assessments. However, commissioned archaeology inevitably led to the fragmentation of Sha Po archaeology both in terms of the agendas for the work and the materials collected. Additionally, the general public tends to view the archaeology at Sha Po as insignificant due to the absence of “treasure” or high-quality elite artifacts. Archaeological records and finds are kept in files that are inaccessible to the public. Such a situation raises the question: By what means can the site’s abundant but vernacular and dispersed remains be turned into a relatively holistic account of the past?
The authors of this book have an unusual position in that they carry dual identities, first as professional archaeologists in charge of the 2008–2010 excavation session and second as residents of Lamma Island. In particular, their local residence encourages them as professional archaeologist to treat even scattered and unimportant artifacts as key materials for assembling a coherent and meaningful local history. Yet the question remains: how can archaeological mosaics be composed into an integrated account of the past, particularly Sha Po’s past? To address this technical problem, the authors introduce the landscape concept and the “piecing together” methodology (reflected in the title of the book). The authors imply that the landscape is a matrix, which accommodates archaeological finds of various dates and from various sources. This matrix is the best vehicle for conveying people’s economic, social, and ideological...