AUSTRALIAN professor Michael Bird has spent the past two years digging up proof that 20,000 years ago, Singapore was part of a huge land mass connected to Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of the region.
He has also found out that Singapore subsequently spent several centuries semi-submerged.
The geologist, an associate professor at the National Institute of Education here, offered this tantalising glimpse into the past:
People here could walk to Malaysia and Indonesia without need of a boat or bridge.
This is because most of the Malay Archipelago was one land mass, with sea levels worldwide about 120m lower than now.
In fact, Singapore was 1,000km away from the nearest sea.
Prof Bird: You could walk to Johor Baru without needing a causeway. But that was at the height of the last Ice Age.
Associate Prof John Miksic of the National University of Singapore agrees.
He said: In fact, the sea levels in this part of the world were at their lowest 20,000 years ago.
Singapore was then a hill about 100m high and the coast was hundreds of kilometres away.
Walking would also have been more pleasant as temperatures then were about 5°C cooler than now.
However, 18,000 years ago, the earths orbit shifted, things warmed up and the ice caps started to melt.
Sea levels rose rapidly, covering most of the land rising high enough to cover much of Singapore about 6,000 years ago.
It is this rapid rise that intrigues Prof Bird.
He has spent the past two years digging for samples of buried mangrove wood, some up to 20m underground, just to find out where the sea levels were.
The buried mangrove holds important clues, he said.
Mangroves grow on the fringes of swamps and this information tells researchers where the sea ended and the land began.
He sends the samples to the Australian National University in Canberra to be carbon-dated.
Geylang and Orchard are among the places where he has made digs.
In low-lying places such as Geylang, the land would have been 15m underwater.
Singapore would have measured just 400 sq km then, a third smaller than it is today.
Places such as Orchard Road, Paya Lebar and Jurong would have been under the sea. The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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