In a southern district of Tainan, farmers carefully till their fields, working their way around ancient concrete sarcophagi that sit on the surface, or lay half buried in the sandy soil. One with a mushroom-like lid protrudes from a sand dune beside a farmhouse.
Locals say that outsiders consider them interesting, but that they have grown accustomed to them. When they were children, they avoided going near the coffins with no tomb or tombstone. There is nothing to mark who their occupants are, and during the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day), nobody comes to pay their respects.
The coffins are made from a concrete material that includes oyster shells, broken bricks, and pieces of tile. It is said that the material resembles mortar used during the Dutch settlement at Tainan in the early 1600s, which included glutinous rice and sugar. One local legend speculates that the bones interred belong to Chinese brought to Taiwan by the Dutch to work on sugar cane plantations. Another theory postulates the coffins may belong to the era of Koxinga, who expelled the Dutch and established his own kingdom on the island.
Tainan Cultural Protection Association member Weng Rui-ming (翁瑞明) recently visited the location and said the site was very special. Mr Weng said that it’s difficult to ascertain the age of the coffins by looking at the exterior. With more than 10 intact concrete coffins, not a few must contain remains that can be examined, but they need to be exhumed.