The rescue and excavation of the Peinan Site led to planning and construction of the National Museum of Prehistory.
In July 1980, while the construction of today's South Line Railway Station (formerly called the Peinan East Line Railway Station) and switchyard was in progress, the building work revealed prehistoric remains of great interest on the Peinan Site. Many slate coffins and exquisite artifacts buried with the dead inside the coffins were excavated one after another, attracting great interest from the public as well as unfortunately, some illegitimate excavation and looting due to extensive coverage from the media.
After the Taitung County Government submitted a proposal to the relevant authorities, construction of the railway station was halted. Furthermore, Professor Wen-hsun Sung of National Taiwan University was delegated to recruit students and form the Peinan Culture Archaeology Team to carry out excavations and preservation.
Since then, for over 10 years Professors Wen-hsun Sung and Chao-mei Lien have led the National Taiwan University Archaeology Team at the site during the summer/winter vacation periods. The area of excavation is over 10,000m2, and over 1,500 burials and tens of thousands of pieces of pottery and stone artifacts have been excavated. This area is definitely the biggest site in the archaeological history of Taiwan. Both scholars in Taiwan and from overseas agree that it is the most important and representative site of the mid-late Neolithic Age in Taiwan. The area is also the largest slate coffin burial complex within the Pan-Pacific Ocean and South-East Asian region.
Professor Sung suggested that if we were to preserve the Peinan Site, an outdoor museum regarding the site should be built nearby. This was the first proposal for building a museum based on the Peinan Site. After discussion and arguments, the National Museum of Prehistory Planning Bureau was finally established on February 1, 1990. After 11 years of planning and construction, the National Museum of Prehistory started its trial operation on July 10, 2001, and officially opened on August 17, 2002. It has established a foundation for the continuing development of the preservation and study of Taiwanese prehistoric culture.
The objectives of the National Museum of Prehistory are to enlighten the public about the complexity and diversity of Taiwan's natural ecology, prehistory and its indigenous cultures through the functions of research, preservation, exhibition and recreation, as well as to encourage people to appreciate and respect the natural environment and cultures of this island.
The National Museum of Prehistory has constructed architectural facilities with a picturesque environment. It is not only the first museum based on the themes of prehistoric and indigenous cultures in Taiwan, the first museum that includes an Excavation Site, nature and wildlife park, as well as the museum building itself, but also a state-ranking museum located on the east coast of Taiwan. Therefore, the overall mission of the National Museum of Prehistory is to build up social education in the midst of East Taiwan's beautiful mountains and waters, so that it can contribute to social education, academic research, cultural preservation and recreation. In addition to this, we look forward to the development of the National Museum of Prehistory into a top-ranking museum that best presents local cultural features with an international viewpoint and international status, through the proposition of Taiwan's prehistory and indigenous cultures that were originated locally yet with content that is beyond national boundaries.
The Museum is designed by New York architect Michael Graves. It is situated to the south of Kangle Station with a rectangular area of approximately 10 hectare. The building itself is on the east side and the west side is the Scenic Garden. The building faces the east toward the Pacific Ocean and with the Central Mountains at the back.
The building basement is used for storage. The open-air Mountain Square is the center of the building, and is surrounded by a three-section compound that serves as functional areas. The east side is the entrance of the Visitor Center, the north side is the exhibition hall, the south side is the administrative hall, and the west side is the Half-moon Pond, which links to the Scenic Garden.
The design of the exterior wall resembles the pattern of indigenous weave, and reflects the unique characteristic of weaving in the indigenous culture. The local materials were largely used in the construction, including marble, ceramic bricks and slate. Earthly tone together with sky tone reflects the harmony of the nature and universe.