First in-depth archaeology survey on Pulau Ubin launched

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Survey is first in-depth study of its kind on the island

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 Johor Strait 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.

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," ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute associate fellow Lim Chen Sian said yesterday in 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," he said.

"So far, we have not come across anything like that."

The National Parks Board, 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. Ubin is famous for its rich biodiversity, but not much is known about its history.