Baxiandong Caves: Immortal Deities and Stone Age Artifacts
In ancient Chinese mythology there are eight immortals in the world who rose above the human state and became blessed with divine, supernatural attributes and powers. They are somewhat amusing deities who spend their time entertaining themselves in various ways, often making merry and drinking too much. Each Immortal portrays a specific characteristic to fight evil and collectively they represent prosperity or long life and are often associated with birthday celebrations.
The Eight Immortals of Chinese Mythology
The Eight Immortals (The Baxian) are said to have resided in the eight caves (named Baxiandong Caves in their honor) as the area is often foggy and the environment resembles one in the story of them crossing the ocean. In this tale, they travel under the ocean to find what they could not see in heaven and end up defeating the dragon-king before embarking on other adventures.
The Baxian. ( Public Domain )
While scientist have not found evidence of the eight deities, they have found the earliest prehistoric relics of the Paleolithic Culture in Taiwan.
Ancient Relics Spanning Two Stone Ages
The Baxian Caves, also known as Baxaindong or the Eight Caves of The Immortals, are located on the east coast of Taiwan along the cliffs facing the Pacific Ocean near the township of Changbin, and from their elevation the views of the ocean are spectacular.
These caves were originally below sea level formed by water erosion which created the cavities millions of years ago. Due to tectonic shifts and the rise of the earth’s crust on the east coast of Taiwan, some of the caves are as high up as 328 feet (100 meters) and most are accessible by walkways.
Baxiandong was first discovered in 1968 during geological investigations and at that stage only a few of the caves were discovered. Then in 2008 and 2012 further explorations led to previously unknown caves and rock shelters, of which there are now 30 in total.
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The Baxian Caves house the remains of the ‘Changbin culture’ and make up the first and only Paleolithic site discovered in Taiwan. The culture traces its roots back 30,000 years and a large collection of Paleolithic artifacts have been unearthed.
The 30 caves cover a timeline spanning from the Old Stone Age (pieces from Kunlun Cave shown to be 25,000 years old) to the New Stone Age (pottery fragments and animal remains excavated date back about 2,500 years ago), but until now the team has not found human remains, which might be attributed to the high humidity in the caves.
Inside Chaoyin Cave, discoveries date back to the pre-ceramic culture of about 5,000 to 6,000 years old which served to connect the Old Stone Age and New Stone Age. These finds make this cave especially significant, but gaining control of the site has not been easy.
The Long Legal Battle for the Caves
Once the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act was passed, the government of Taiwan’s Taitung County finally managed to take back the last of the Baxian Caves in 2017, after more than ten years of legal battles. Three departments joined forces to regain control of these caves for preservation purposes.
Bashian Caves ( Public Domain )
The biggest cave, Lingyan Cave, housed a temple while the smaller caves were filled with niches for placing cremation urns. Statues dominated the area, people practised religious ceremonies, and incense burned all year round.
To avoid damaging the underground cultural layer, The Taitung Department of Cultural Affairs plans to have experts remove the cement and tiles previously laid on the floor, as well as remove all the statues.
Tso-Chen Man Is Not the Earliest Inhabitant
For many years, the fossils of the ‘Tso-chen Man’ discovered in the 1970s were thought to be of the earliest human inhabitants of Taiwan. Testing conducted by paleontologists in the 1970’s estimated that the fossils were between 20,000 and 30,000 years old. Since the fossils predated the Changbin Culture, and because it was the first major archaeological discovery in Taiwan since Professor Song Wen-xun’s 1968 discovery of a Paleolithic site, the dating attracted a great deal of attention, but additional discoveries of early human bones in Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and Okinawa, Japan have led to researchers re-examining the Tso-chen Man. Although the early researchers used the most advanced technology available at the time, and their findings stimulated considerable interest in prehistorical Taiwan, the new results indicate that the oldest of the skull fragments are only about 3,000 years old.
Top image: Baxiandong Caves, Taiwan Source: Public Domain
Anonymous. 2017: Rewriting Taiwan’s Prehistory . National Tsing Hua University.
Available at: http://nthu-en.web.nthu.edu.tw/files/13-1902-100181.php
Chen, K. 2011: The Protection of Archaeological Sites in Taiwan. Maney Publishing
Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/journal/1350-5033_Conservation_and_Management_of_Archaeological_Sites
Liao, G. 2017: Taiwan’s Taitung County reclaims the last occupied cave of the country’s oldest prehistoric site. Taiwan News
Available at: https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3304059