Malaysia attempts to repatriate Gua Cha skeletons

Malaysia, through the Minister for Culture Dr Rais Yatim, will go to Cambridge this month in an attempt to repatriate the prehistoric skeletons from Gua Cha in Kelantan.

Rais to get Cambridge to return prehistoric skeletons
New Straits Times, 17 January 2008

Gua Cha is one of the more significant prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia, showing evidence of human activity from at least 10,000 years ago. Over 40 skeletons have been found at the site, dating to about 5,000 years old. So how did skeletons from Kelantan end up in Cambridge?

The skeletons from the Kelantan cave, dated to about 5,000 years ago, were taken out of Malaysia in the 1950’s by the former Taiping Museum director, G. de G. Sieveking, to his house in the United Kingdom.

My guess is back when the remains were first excavated, there weren’t any laws in place to protect the export of archaeological artefacts and remains. Cambridge seems to be rather quiet on Malaysia’s repatriation attempt and so I wonder if we’ll soon be seeing a situation like the Elgin marbles here?

You can read the full story here. If you’re in Malaysia, you can see exhibits on the Gua Cha finds at the National Museum (although renovations are on) or the National History Museum. In Singapore, there’s a small exhibit on Gua Cha at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Incidentally, Gale Sieveking passed away last year and his obituary is posted here.

Books about prehistoric Malaysia:
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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