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The Ace of Spades
Wong Wan-cheung is an archeologist at the Centre for Chinese Archaeology and Art at Chinese University. She talks about how digging up gems from the dirt is a labor of love.

By June Ng | Feb 26, 2009

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  • The Ace of Spades
    The Ace of Spades - Wong Wan-cheung

HK Magazine: How long have you been working as an archeologist?
Wong Wan-cheung:
I’ve been in the field for more than a decade. There are no archeology degrees on offer in Hong Kong so I took anthropology at Chinese University and have been working there ever since.

HK: How many archaeologists are there in Hong Kong?
A very limited number. I’d say probably less than 10 for those who’re involved in field work. But the archaeology electives at the universities are quite popular. But it’s sad that we don’t always have sites for them to do field work in Hong Kong.

HK: Why do you find archeology so fascinating?
Because of all the hard labor! I’ve always been fascinated by history, but archeology is actually more closely related to natural science and the evolution of mankind. You can deduce information about the culture at the time from your findings.

HK: What essential equipment do you need on your dig?
Hong Kong has a windy climate so anything buried underground will not be buried that deep—around two to three meters. So we usually only need to bring one mattock, two shovels—one big and one small—and a brush to get rid of the sand and dust on the artifacts. Of course we need professional equipments such as dumpy level and theodolite.

HK: Are there any animal fossils in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong’s soil is acidic so it’s not good at preserving organic matter. As a result, we don’t have many fossils. Most of the fossils we have are shells.

HK: What is the biggest archeological finding ever in Hong Kong?
It’s hard to define the biggest, but the excavation in Tung Wan Tsai North, Ma Wan (see map) was elected as one of the 10 most important new archeological discoveries in China in 1997. I think the Pa Tau Kwu site is very important as well, because it was the first time we found the relics of a village in Hong Kong. Before the discovery, people said that we had no settlements and that the only people in Hong Kong were Tankka boat-dwellers.

HK: What was your most memorable digging experience?
That would be the 17-month-long survey of archeological materials on Lantau Island. It took place in the 90s, when the government was about to build highways leading to the new airport. I was just a second-year student at that time, so I could concentrate on having fun, enjoying the dig and learning from my professor. But for archaeologist, it really depends on luck because you’ll never know what’s underneath the earth. In that student project, most of the things I digged up are potsherds, nothing pretty. My luckiest experience is in a project in Vietnam and found an ancient tomb. I digged up a nephrite, a pair of ear rings and 110 beads.

Thinking of becoming an archeologist yourself? With over 7,000 years of ancient history, you might just get lucky and be the one to uncover the next big finding!

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