Singapore begins first detailed archaeological surveys on Pulau Ubin

Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 22 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) on Friday (Dec 22) announced the start of the first phase of in-depth archaeological surveys on Pulau Ubin.

The surveys started a week ago and are being conducted at two World War Two gun emplacements of Ubin’s Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat (AMTB) battery, which were built north of the island between 1936 and 1939 to defend the Johor Straits.

The gun emplacements now reside at a National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) campsite.

Surveys will take place in three phases over 18 months, said ISEAS associate fellow and archaeologist Lim Chen Sian during a media visit which was attended by Second Minister for National Development and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

“Previously there were only pedestrian surveys involving mainly visual inspection, as early as 1949,” Mr Lim added. “Now we have the resources ... to figure out what really happened here.

“At this stage it’s really about documenting, mapping out, creating an inventory and blueprint.”

Depending on results of the first phase, more surveys may be carried out at the gun emplacements or at other sites on the western side of Ubin.

The detailed study of the archaeological and historical remains at these sites will involve fieldwork such as identifying, mapping and recording heritage features - along with basic sampling such as surface collections.

Sub-surface probes may also be carried out to analyse areas with a high probability of buried remains.

The surveys will complement and add to ongoing cultural heritage and biodiversity research on the island, and serve as a guide for NParks to strategise conservation efforts, according to the agency’s Ubin director Robert Teo.

“We will explore the possibility of future public access,” he said. “The idea is to preserve (historical sites like these) for future generations to enjoy.”

Source: CNA/kk

First in-depth archaeological study on Pulau Ubin begins
TOH EE MING Today Online 22 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE — Researchers are on their latest quest to uncover another slice of Singapore’s history, with the start of an inaugural series of in-depth archaeological surveys on Pulau Ubin. They will begin by examining World War Two artefacts.

Led by the National Parks Board (NParks) and Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, the first of the surveys kicked off on Friday (Dec 22) at the National Police Cadet Corps Campsite on the 10.2 sq km island.

The former site of the World War Two gun emplacement of the Ubin Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat battery, it is a rare surviving example of war relics found in Singapore.

Estimated to have been constructed between 1936 and 1939, the guns were positioned on Pulau Ubin to defend the Johor Straits from enemy ships and were part of a fortification along Singapore’s northeastern coast, running from Changi to Pulau Tekong.

The 18-month study, which will be split into three phrases, will document the archaeological and historical remains at selected sites on the island.

As part of the Ubin Project — which seeks ideas from the public on how to preserve the island’s rustic charm — the study will complement ongoing cultural heritage and biodiversity research on Pulau Ubin.

The findings will add to existing information about the island’s cultural heritage. Much of its history is still unknown despite the presence of a number of abandoned historical sites dating back to the 1800s.

Under the first phase of the study, fieldwork by the 12-member team will include surveys that identify, map, and record heritage features with basic sampling of surface collections. Subsurface probes may be used to analyse areas where there is a high probability of buried archaeological remains.

Iseas associate fellow Lim Chen Sian said the findings will be pivotal in shedding light on Singapore’s trade, economic and military history, and contribute to archaeological and historic research.

For instance, part of the study will investigate whether the former gun emplacement site was used during the Battle of Singapore or by the Japanese, what happened to it post-war, whether there was evidence of the guns mounted, or the presence of soldiers, he said.

Previously, there were only pedestrian surveys involving mainly visual inspection, from as early as 1949, Mr Lim added. “It’s about creating an inventory at this stage, mapping it out, measuring everything, and making a blueprint.”

Depending on the findings of the first phrase, subsequent archaeological surveys may be conducted at the same areas or at the western part of the island.

Other areas of research include looking at aspects of social history, such as the roles supporting the military – the water coolies, washer women, or people who polished the soldiers’ boots, for instance.

“We know big events happened, but there are little things that tell a story as well... Archaeology doesn’t just give you the big macro picture, but (studying the activities of the soldiers) also evoke some kind of emotion (about what they went through),” said Mr Lim.

The former gun emplacement site is in a restricted area, and NParks’ director for Pulau Ubin Robert Teo said the authorities will explore making it accessible to the public.

“There’s been a lot of work done on the cultural and natural heritage of Pulau Ubin, such as the biodiversity of wildlife,” said Mr Teo. “This survey will give another layer of information to help us for future management, so this can be preserved and conserved for future generations to enjoy as well.”

There are nine of such gun emplacement sites in Singapore, such as at Changi Outer and Changi Inner (the present Changi Ferry terminal), two at Palau Tekong and one at Sentosa.

NParks is funding the study with S$38,000 in cash, while Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute is contributing S$107,000 worth of manpower, equipment and expertise.

In-depth survey may unearth Ubin's mystery
Archaeological study will explore why there is no evidence of guns at rare WWII battery
Rachel Au-Yong Straits Times 23 Dec 17;

On the northern shores of Pulau Ubin sit two emplacements, meant to hold guns capable of shooting 70 rounds a minute.

The battery, estimated to have been built between 1936 and 1939, was positioned to defend the Strait of Johor from enemy ships.

It was part of an entire fortification system along Singapore's north-eastern coast, from Changi to Pulau Tekong.

There were nine such emplacements in total, but the two on Ubin are rare examples of World War II relics here that have been preserved intact.

However, there is no evidence that actual guns were ever mounted on the emplacements.

Now, researchers want to know why. They hope for answers as they embark on an archaeological survey that will have three phases over 18 months to shed light on Singapore's trade, and economic and military history.

"One school of thought is that (the British) ran out of money," said ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute associate fellow Lim Chen Sian yesterday, in officially launching the survey.

"If guns were mounted here, they would have had gunners manning the fort, and there would be a lot of debris - soldiers would be drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, eating and throwing trash. If we can find that, the entire assemblage of artefacts would suggest this place has been used.

"So far, we haven't come across anything like that," he said, adding that he would like to find out what happened to the post during and after World War II.

The National Parks Board (NParks), an agency under the Ministry of National Development, is contributing $38,000 to the research, while ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute is giving $107,000 in kind.

For the first phase of the study, the team of six researchers, who live on the island, will document and study the battery in detail.

They will also carry out basic sampling, and may use sub-surface probes in areas where there is a high likelihood of buried remains.

This is the first in-depth survey of the 1,020ha island - about 10 times the size of Sengkang town and a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland.

It is famous for its rich biodiversity, but not much is known about its history.

The sites of the gun emplacements at the National Police Cadet Corps campsite in Pulau Ubin. One of the sites is located in the jungle (above), while the other has been fitted with a replica of a gun (left). In reality, no evidence has been found to
The sites of the gun emplacements at the National Police Cadet Corps campsite in Pulau Ubin. One of the sites has been fitted with a replica of a gun (above). PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
As for the next two phases of the study, Dr Lim said it was still early days yet. But he hopes to look into the cultural heritage of Pulau Ubin, already known for its rich biodiversity.

"It would be interesting to study the other people serving the military - who were the ones providing food, who were the ones polishing their boots," he said.

He added that the survey would be of great historical value.

"The United Kingdom's greatest defeat was in Singapore - they lost a lot of people, a whole squadron of ships, so this in itself is historical on an international level."

At the same time, he hoped that the findings will eventually tell a story about life on the island.

"Archaeology can not only give you the big picture but also go down to the little things, like what soldiers eat," he said.

Yesterday, Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee visited the site, which is located in the National Police Cadet Corps' Camp Resilience campsite.

It is currently closed to the public, but an NParks spokesman said it could be made open to the public in the future.

Mr Lee later said on Facebook that the survey is part of the Government's efforts to conserve the island's cultural heritage and biodiversity through The Ubin Project, which was started in 2014, and will "guide NParks in the management strategies for Pulau Ubin".