The National Museum of Prehistory and Beinan Culture Park

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The National Museum of Prehistory: Taiwan's first museum based on the themes of prehistoric and indigenous cultures in Taiwan, first to include an excavation site and nature/wildlife park, first state museum located on the East Coast, and in a few moments first on your "must-do" travel list.

They came ashore on the island's southeast coast. First one canoe, then another, and the rest. Scouts went out across the broad plain, to the mountains that ringed it, a crescent seeming to fall into the sea either side. Good protection. The scouts came back reporting good game in hill and on plain, with good fresh-water riverside settlement sites away from the typhoon-buffeted ocean waters. The great Kuroshio current ensured marine game. This was the Promised Land, all agreed, and they settled down in this isolated spot, thriving almost 3,000 years.

This people is known to us as the Beinan Culture, a prehistoric culture that flourished from about 5,300 to 2,300 years ago. The people lived on the Taitung Plain, where Taitung City now stands and pushes outward to its geographical limits on the plain. Part of the great Austronesian diaspora, origins unknown, they may be related to the tribal people who live here today - a link suspected but not conclusively proven.

A rich record of their existence lies buried under foot in today's young Beinan Culture Park, site of digs of global import, and the young National Museum of Prehistory, which also tells the story of Taiwan and Mother Nature, prehistoric Taiwan, and the era since the written character came ashore.

Origins of Museum and Culture Park

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During the period of Japanese rule over Taiwan (1895-1945), Japanese scholars salivated over Taiwan's East Coast and offshore islands, a land of tribal cultures comparatively untouched by outside influence. Some came to study the large stone pillars strewn about the Beinan site. From local tribal legend they surmised the existence of an ancient culture on-site, also correctly surmising the pillars were part of dwelling structures.

In 1980 during the construction of today's Taitung Railway Station, innumerable slate coffins were unearthed, some with bodies still within. Many other artifacts also surfaced. A public hue and cry arose to protect this valuable Taiwan heritage, and this has been largely done. The Beinan Culture Park was established on the site of the digs (where the largest settlement and burial ground of the Beinan Culture was) stretching from the base of the hills to the Beinan River. The culture was named for the river. The museum was originally to be on park grounds, but it was determined this would inevitably disturb countless treasures. It was instead built nearer the sea, close to today's Kangle Railway Station. The park was officially opened in 1997, the museum in 2002.

National Museum of Prehistory

This is a world-class facility, designed by prestigious New York architect Michael Graves. Pay close attention to the facade, which resembles tribal-art weave. The colorful costume of the native's historical tribes is one of their most brilliant attractions. Building colors are in earth tones, key building materials locally sourced, mainly marble, ceramic brick, and slate, all key materials in the cultural expression of the island's various ethnic groups.

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The grounds are approximately 10 hectares. The main section faces east to the ocean, as did the Beinan people's dwellings, to the sunrise. Two wings extend back from the central structure, west toward the mountains. In the open-air inner courtyard is the Scenic Garden; a favorite delight here is the Maze, formed of granite walls and with "water walls" occasionally appearing.

Permanent exhibitions are "The Natural History of Taiwan", "The Prehistory of Taiwan", and "The Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan." There are many special exhibitions, not all on Taiwan's tribes or the Austronesian diaspora, but always on the traditional cultural expression of some ethnic grouping(s). For example, 2003 saw "Change and Continuity - Handicrafts and Cultures of Indigenous Peoples of the American Southwest and Southeastern Taiwan." In last year's -4000-Year-Old Stone Tool Workshops on Qimei Island, Penghu," the existence of prehistoric trade and cross-sea travel between regional tribal peoples was clearly demonstrated.

Beinan Culture Park

The park is officially part of the museum. This is the largest prehistoric excavation site in Taiwan, over 10,000 sq. m.; over 1,600 burial sites and 20,000-plus pottery and stone artifacts have been unearthed here, plus Taiwan's greatest haul - in terms of quantity and variety - of jadeware. This is the "biggest" site in local archaeological history, in more than one sense; scholars attest this is the most important, most complete site of the mid-to-late Neolithic Age. It also has the largest graveyard/burial complex around the Pacific Rim. In its prime, the settlement may have encompassed an area of more than 300,000 square meters.

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Practical Info

The museum is open 9 to 5 (except Mondays, national holidays, Chinese New Year's Eve/Day).

Address: No. 1, Museum Rd., Taitung City

tel: (089) 381-166

website: www.nmp.gov.tw

Tickets:
NT$80for adults
NT$60group members (over 10)
NT$50students/children over 120 cm
freeseniors/children under 120 cm

There are regular Chinese tours

English/Japanese tours are available with advance registration. Call (089) 381-166, ext. 777.

How to Get There

Kangle Railway Station is five minutes away by foot. If coming from the airport, taxi is the only viable option. For the culture park, Taitung Railway Station is 15 minutes away on foot, with a dedicated pathway.