Header image courtesy of @shib.aka_burri (via Instagram)
Those of us who live here will know that before its days as a neon-lit, Blade Runner-inspiring metropolis, Hong Kong was just a small fishing village. In fact, archaeologists believe that settlers could have arrived here as early as 38,000 BC! It’s hard to imagine pre-colonial Hong Kong (let alone pre-historic Hong Kong) when you’re surrounded by skyscrapers, but venture out far enough to the SAR’s rugged coast, and you’ll find proof of our ancient predecessors in the form of thousands-year-old rock carvings.
Some are certainly in better nick than others, with their squiggly lines and geometric patterns suggesting the outline of birds, dragons, or other beasts (fantastical or not). In addition, seven out of the nine rock carvings recognised as official monuments by the Antiquities and Monuments Office are found by the coast, leading historians to theorise that they were talismans made by early settlers to ward off bad weather and dangerous waves.
Whatever their purpose, these ancient carvings are certainly intriguing—read on for some of the best rock carvings that have been discovered in Hong Kong so far.
The remote island of Tung Lung Chau is replete with natural beauty, making it a popular spot with hikers, campers, and rock-climbers alike, but it’s also home to a famous ancient rock carving. The carving, which is located on Tung Lung Chau’s northern coast, depicts what appears to be a dragon overlooking Joss House Bay. At roughly 180 by 240 centimetres, this is the largest carving discovered in Hong Kong and attracts a regular stream of visitors, despite being accessible only by a long, steep set of stairs.
Click here for our full guide to Tung Lung Chau.
This is the latest addition to the Antiquities and Monuments Office’s list of ancient rock carvings, located on a craggy cliff at Cape Collinson, the easternmost point of Hong Kong Island, overlooking the Tathong Channel. Although it is believed to have been made around 3,000 years ago, this carving was only discovered in 2018, likely owing to its inaccessible and perilous location on a weathered outpost about 11 metres above sea level (so no, you can’t just hike to Cape Collinson Battery and improvise—in fact, the government warns against visiting this ancient rock carving because it’s so dangerous to get to).
Perhaps due to its remote location, this carving is also one of the best-preserved—William Meacham, an archaeologist who literally wrote the book on rock carvings in Hong Kong, said it was one of the most visually impressive of its age when the carving was declared a monument in late 2019. At 160 centimetres tall and 260 centimetres wide, the Cape Collinson carving is comparable in size to the one on Tung Lung Chau, and like the others, is composed of a series of geometric and curved lines.
As one of the most popular hikes in Hong Kong, the Dragon’s Back Trail will be familiar to many. However, did you know that one of Hong Kong’s most impressive Bronze Age rock carvings lies just steps away from Big Wave Bay’s barbecue pits?
Discovered in 1970 by a police officer, the Big Wave Bay carving is one of the largest examples of its kind, and features what appear to be the shapes of animals carved among the geometric patterns. Though it is hard to say exactly when the carving was made, its proximity and similarity in style to other Bronze Age carvings and artefacts have led archaeologists to estimate its age at around 3,000 years.
Click here to read our guide on how to hike the Dragon’s Back to Big Wave Bay.
Located on the scenic island of Po Toi, the southernmost point of Hong Kong, is a set of carvings on a rock by the sea. The existence of the carvings had long been reported by local fisherfolk who saw them from the waters, but they were only officially discovered by authorities in the 1960s and recognised as monuments in 1979. The carvings, which are split by a 70-centimetre-wide fracture, feature what appear to be stylised animals and fish on the left, and a pattern of interlocking spirals on the right.
Cheung Chau is home to many geological attractions, from the Cheung Po Tsai pirate cave to the 16 famous rock formations that make up the “Mini Great Wall”—and that’s before you factor in the tombolo that connects Cheung Chau North and South. Perhaps the most intriguing, however—other than maybe the “Human Head Rock”—is the pair of ancient carvings under the Warwick Hotel.
Spanning across two boulders (one large, one small), the carvings consist of geometric and curved patterns around small depressions in the rock. One of the carvings was discovered by a geologist in 1970, but the second set was hidden under some soil at the time and wasn’t revealed until later.
Discovered in 1978, these geometric grooves—which some believe to depict birds or animals—in a boulder at Lung Ha Wan (a.k.a. Lobster Bay) were declared a monument in 1983. Given that the surrounding rocks also feature grooves and pitting from natural weathering, the status of the Lung Ha Wan “carving” is debated among archaeologists.
Even if you don’t believe that the patterns were made by humans, there is something awe-inspiring about the scene all the same, with the mysteriously-patterned boulder jutting over Clear Water Bay and Sai Kung’s volcanic rock formations.
Click here for our full guide to hiking from Tai Leng Tung to Lung Ha Wan.