Archaeologists digging up the past at Singapore Art Museum
Not many may know that the Bras Basah area opposite the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) was the largest convict prison settlement in the British Empire in the early 19th century.
Now, five archaeologists are looking to shed more light on the area's history through a three-week archaeology investigation at SAM .
The team has started digging six 2m by 1m excavation pits - three in the front lawn and three more in SAM's courtyards. Actual excavation work will start on Saturday.
The excavations, a partnership between the National Heritage Board (NHB) and SAM, are being carried out by the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre (NSC), Archaeology Unit at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.
They are part of Singapore Heritage Festival 2018.
This is the first dig at the 160-year-old national monument, which will close next year for a major revamp that is due to be completed in 2021.
Research officer Aaron Kao, 39, hopes to uncover an unknown part of Singapore's history.
"The colonial maps show us that the roads reached what is now Orchard Central, but there are no details on the activities that operated along them," he told The New Paper.
From tomorrow, visitors can go on free daily guided tours through the excavation sites, visit an accompanying archaeology exhibition, and attend talks.
On selected days, they can watch the archaeologists at work.
"I'll feel like a fish in a fish tank, but I'm very excited that we're finding out more aboutSingapore's story and also reaching out to the public," Mr Kao said.
SAM's head of programmes, Ms Tan Shir Ee, said the pits will be covered up and the front lawn re-turfed before the next exhibition opens next month.
She believes the front lawn holds the biggest promise of revealing archaeological deposits as it has not been built on for 166 years.
"If we do find evidence of an early 1800s structure or life in this dig, it would shed more light on the history of the site before the St Joseph's Institution was built," she added.