A cluster of three ancient sarcophagi recently discovered in eastern Taiwan's Taitung City could give scholars new insight into their understanding of a nearby prehistoric site, a researcher from the National Museum of Prehistory said Thursday.

Parts of the sarcophagi, or stone coffins, have already been unearthed, showing them to be 60 cm high and 50 cm wide, although their lengths have yet to be determined as the excavation is still underway.

Weathered remains and mortuary objects such as jade adzes have been found in the sarcophagi, located on a hill over 200 meters above sea level and around three kilometers from the Peinan archeological site. The prehistoric site, where more than 20,000 ancient objects have been unearthed, is one of the largest archeological sites in Taiwan.

After the discovery was made by construction workers who were widening a road, the Taitung city government decided to suspend the road expansion project, while an archeological group from the museum, which is located at the Peinan site, began to excavate the stone coffins.

Yeh Mei-chen, an assistant researcher of the museum, said that although archeologists discovered sarcophagi in the area a decade ago, they were unearthed individually rather than in a cluster, which she said provides great research value.

Preliminary studies show that the lives of the prehistoric humans who were interred in the sarcophagi were similar to those uncovered at the Peinan site and that the sarcophagi could represent part of a "satellite tribe" or extension of the Peinan site, said Yeh, adding that the discovery could help archaeologists to gain a further understanding of the Peinan site.

Also significant is that the sarcophagi are situated 200-300 meters above sea level, while other archeological sites around the country tend to be located on level ground, said Li Kun-hsiu, another assistant researcher at the museum.

Although much research has been conducted at the Peinan site since 1945, large-scale excavations were not carried out until 1980, when the construction of the Taitung Railway Station, which damaged the site, drew attention from the public.

Anthropology professors Sung Wen-hsun and Lien Chao-mei of National Taiwan University then led a preservation project that lasted nine years and unearthed the richness of the antiquities at the site.