Historic trails bear the records of the lives of our ancestors. Whether these land trails were routes for hunting, intermarriaging, strategic purposes, or even ancient sea routes, they were shaped by our ancestors’activities. A great number of cultural remains could often be found along the trails and the associated architectures. But what were the original functions and cultural significance of those“ cultural remains”? To understand the past of historic trails, it is essential to study the
related archaeological sites along them.
“In my career as an archeologist, I’ve found that in Taiwan the nature and the face of archeology have been changing. I couldn’t help but ponder whether these studies can be of some value to Taiwan,” said Prof. Yi-chang Liu of IHP, Academia Sinica, with decades of experiences in archeology. He thinks that archeological research not only reveals how people in prehistoric era had lived on this island, but also help map out the developmental history of human activities in Taiwan.
Traces of the Past and the Present
As Taiwan is a long and narrow island oriented toward north-south axis with many rapid rivers running in east-west direction, it presents great difficulty for land transportation in the old days. And people back then had to, with impressive judgment and courage, build these historic trails, such as Balaka Historic Trail and Fishermen's Trail in Yangmingshan, Beikeng Creek Historic Trail in Shei-Pa, Old Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road in Taroko, and Batongguan Historic Trail in Yushan. These trails signify multiple meanings, such as military, trade and etc.
“Today most people think that historic trails are those roads and paths on land, but archeologically, the trails also include sailing routes on the sea. So historic trails should be defined as any transportation routes, on land or at sea alike,which existed prior to the advent of modern transportation facilities and infrastructure.” Liu pointed out that since the 1980s the history and culture of Taiwan has gradually been emphasized, and he has followed the trend and conducted numerous surveys on both land trails and sea routes using archaeological methods, including Fishermen's Trail, Alangyi Historic Trail, the east section of Batongguan Historic Trail,Zhufagang River, etc.
Historic trails in Taiwan exist in diverse landforms. The usage of these trails also varied due to the landforms. For example, those ancient main streets (official roads), which allowed vehicles like horse- or ox-drawn carriages, were mostly built on the plains and with wider road. In early Qing Dynasty, an official Yong-he Yu wrote in his book Bihai Travel Notes about how he travelled on an oxcart from Tainan all the way to Beitou for sulfur mining: “For nearly 80 or 90 km from Hsinchu to Nankan, not a single person or house was in sight,nor was a single tree for shade.” What Yu had once taken has now turned into an artery between the two cities and an important historic trail.