A cluster of three ancient sarcophagi recently discovered in Taitung could give archeologists new insights into a nearby prehistoric site, a researcher from the National Museum of Prehistory said on Thursday.

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

Weathered remains and mortuary objects, such as jade adzes, have been found in the sarcophagi, located on a hill more than 200m above sea level and about 3km 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 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 sarcophagi.

Yeh Mei-chen, an assistant researcher at the museum, said that although archeologists had 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, Yeh said, adding that the discovery could help archeologists gain further understanding of the Peinan site.

It is also significant that the sarcophagi are situated 200m to 300m above sea level, while other archeological sites around the country tend to be located at sea level, said Lee Kun-hsiu (NgdWîO), 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 Taitung Railway Station, which damaged the site, drew the public's attention.