Archaeological evidence shows that the Taipei basin was inhabited in prehistoric times. Between 10000 and 3000 B.C. on the seaward edge of the basin arose the Tapenkeng Culture, characterized by crude cord-marked pottery and advanced polished stone implements. People at that time lived by hunting, fishing and gathering, and also knew how to grow grain and certain fruits and vegetables for food After the Tapenkeng Culture, the area was home to the Yuanshan Culture and the Shihsanhang Culture. The Shihsanhang Culture, around the beginning of our era, was emerging from the stone age and is marked by the appearance of iron implements, glass beads, and pottery with geometrical designs. Prehistoric stone and pottery relics have been found in the Zhishanyan, Shipai, Beitou, Guantou, Tamsui and Jinshan areas around Yangmingshan National Park. The discovery of stone axes and arrowheads in the Chutzuhu area of Yangmingshan also shows man's presence here at least 2,000 years ago, although the sulfur fumes from nearby volcanoes probably made Yangmingshan a less than ideal place for human settlement and activity.
In more modern times, the Ketagalan plains aborigines were early inhabitants of the Tamsui and Keelung region of Taiwan's north coast. By the Wanli period (1573-1619) of the Ming dynasty, Han Chinese merchants were sailing in to the area to do barter trade with the Ketagalan aborigines, exchanging agate beads, bracelets and felt rugs for Yangmingshan sulfur. In 1626 the Spanish occupied northern Taiwan. They encouraged Han Chinese settlers to open up the area to agriculture and actively exploited local resources, including coal from Keelung and sulfur from Beitou. Sulfur was used to make gunpowder, and demand ensured that active sulfur mining continued in the area. New waves of immigration once Taiwan became part of the Qing Empire brought accelerated development, and Guantu Temple on the Tamsui River estuary was built by sulfur miners to protect them as they travelled upriver.
In 1697, following a huge explosion at Foochow gunpowder depot when over 500,000 catties of gunpowder went up in smoke, the explorer Yu Yung-ho was sent to Taiwan in search of sulfur. He sailed along the coast to Bali, then up the Tamsui River into the Taipei basin, where he engaged in sulfur mining and refining near Beitou. After spending some 7 months in Taiwan he returned to the mainland and penned a detailed account of his experiences, thus giving us an illuminating picture of life in Taiwan 300 years ago. The sulfur deposits discovered by Yu Yung-ho are thought to lie in the Dahuangzui area of Beitou, and a stone monument alongside Yangmingshan National Park's Longfenggu Visitor Center records the story of his expedition.