Calls for Malaysian history books to include references to Old Kedah

History advocates in Malaysia are campaigning for the inclusion of references to Old Kedah, discovered through archaeological excavations, into history textbooks.

Call to include Old Kedah civilisation in history textbooks
Free Malaysia Today, 05 July 2016

New facts on Old Kedah, which has been declared as the earliest and oldest civilisation in Southeast Asia, should be immediately included in history books used as textbooks in schools.

Chairman of the Malaysian Historical Society Kedah branch, Prof Dr Wan Shamsuddin Mohd Yusof said the information was necessary so the young generation could be aware of the existence of the more than 2,000 year-old treasure at the Sungai Batu Archaeology Complex.

“This is history, not a myth, or merely a legend, but something that should be the pride of Malaysians, that we have the oldest civilisation in Southeast Asia,” he told Bernama.

On May 23, the Sungai Batu Archaeology Complex was declared the earliest and oldest civilisation in this region and five archaeologists, representing five main civilisations in the world, namely Mesopotamia, Indus, Mesoamerica, China and Greek-Rome, signed the declaration plaque.

Full story here.

Reassessing the Deep Skull from Niah

A study of the Deep Skull from Niah has some new interpretations – female, not male;and likely originating from East Asia.

The Deep Skull of Niah. Source: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
The Deep Skull of Niah. Source: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Deep Skull from Niah Cave and the Pleistocene Peopling of Southeast Asia
Front. Ecol. Evol., 27 June 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2016.00075

37,000-year-old skull from Borneo reveals surprise for scientists
Popular archaeology, 27 June 2016

Could this skull rewrite human history? 37,000-year-old cranium found in Borneo may be evidence that ancient Aborigines were not the first to settle in Pacific island
Daily Mail, 27 June 2016

The Deep Skull from Niah Cave in Sarawak (Malaysia) is the oldest anatomically modern human recovered from island Southeast Asia. For more than 50 years its relevance to tracing the prehistory of the region has been controversial. The most widely held view, originating with Brothwell’s 1960 description and analysis, is that the Niah individual is related to Indigenous Australians. Here we undertake a new assessment of the Deep Skull and consider its bearing on this question. In doing so, we provide a new and comprehensive description of the cranium including a reassessment of its ontogenetic age, sex, morphology, and affinities. We conclude that this individual was most likely to have been of advanced age and female, rather than an adolescent male as originally proposed. The morphological evidence strongly suggests that the Deep Skull samples the earliest modern humans to have settled Borneo, most likely originating on mainland East Asia. We also show that the affinities of the specimen are most likely to be with the contemporary indigenous people of Borneo, although, similarities to the population sometimes referred to as Philippine Negritos cannot be excluded. Finally, our research suggests that the widely supported “two-layer” hypothesis for the Pleistocene peopling of East/Southeast Asia is unlikely to apply to the earliest inhabitants of Borneo, in-line with the picture emerging from genetic studies of the contemporary people from the region.

Paper here.

Old Kedah Festival news roundup

Old Kedah, or Kedah Tua in Malay, and the archaeological findings of the Bujang Valley in northern Peninsular Malaysia were the focus of a local festival held last month. The events included an international conference, and from the news reports two themes seem apparent: the disagreement on whether the ruins of the Bujang Valley represent an animist or Hindu-Buddhist tradition, and the news that the remains of the Hindu temples that have previously been uncovered in the valley will not be nominated and protected under Unesco World Heritage. There’s a lot of subtext to read between the news reports, but it seems there is an attempt to downplay the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in the Bujang Valley sites.

Source: Bernama, via Malay Mail 20160521
Source: Bernama, via Malay Mail 20160521

Experts disagree on religion practised at ruins older than Borobodur and Angkor Wat
The Star, 21 May 2016

World archaeological experts fascinated by Sungai Batu ancient site
Malay Mail, 21 May 2016

Ministry seeks allocation to develop Sungai Batu into historical tourism site
Malay Mail, 21 May 2016

No to heritage listing on Hindu-Buddhist temple ruins
The Star, 21 May 2016

Religious pluralism a likelihood in Bujang Valley
Free Malaysia Today, 23 May 2016

Ancient seaport of Sg Batu
New Straits Times, 23 May 2016

Sg Batu declared SEA’s oldest civilisation
Free Malaysia Today, 23 May 2016

Bujang Valley: Need for proof to be a heritage site?
The Star, 26 May 2016

Minister slams government for lack of Bujang Valley protection

A state minister in Malaysia has criticised the federal government of Malaysia for not protecting the Bujang Valley in Kedah as a heritage site.

Bujang Valley Museum

Ramasamy furious Bujang Valley not yet a heritage site
FMT News, 22 April 2016

Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy has slammed the federal government for not preserving the historical Bujang Valley in Kedah by gazetting it as a heritage site.

The DAP leader was responding to a recent report in The Sun that a group of local university students were found playing “station games” atop a candi (ancient tomb or temple built during the Hindu and Buddhist periods) at the Archaeological Museum there.

“Despite the monuments there dating back more than 2000 years, the site has not received the kind of attention that is due from the Malaysian government.

“While the Bujang Valley has not been gazetted as a heritage site despite many requests, the ancient monuments and sites face the danger of being abused or even demolished by unscrupulous land developers,” he said in a statement today, citing the demolition of a reconstructed candi by a developer to make way for a housing project in the valley, several years ago.

Full story here.

200-year-old gravestones found in Kuala Lumpur

200-year-old gravestones were discovered near a historic mosque in Kuala Lumpur, during construction work that is part of a riverside beautification project.

Gravestones found in Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur. Source: The Star: 20160413
Gravestones found in Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur. Source: The Star: 20160413

Rock-solid proof of 200-year-old graves
The Star, 13 April 2016

Gravestones find ‘will not affect construction’
The Star, 04 May 2016

Contractors digging up the vicinity of the century-old Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur for the River of Life (RoL) project stumbled upon several gravestones believed to be from the early 18th century.

So far more than 45 gravestones, mostly granite and a few marble as well as sandstone ones dating back almost 200 years were found buried near the construction site from December 2015 to March this year.

It is learnt that the RoL project conservator had alerted workers who are currently constructing a water fountain at the site to be on the lookout for more artefacts to emerge.

The site where the project is taking shape was a Muslim cemetery two centuries ago.

Full story here and here.

Conservation plan for Gua Tambun

The Perak State government announced last month plans to revitalise and conserve the Gua Tambun rock art site in Ipoh, a site I am very familiar with. The plans include constructing an entrance and public facilities, but more alarmingly, an awning to protect the paintings from damage. This is a really bad idea, because it represents a major environmental change to the rock shelter (not to mention as being practically unfeasible).

Gua Tambun. Source: The Star 20160309
Gua Tambun. Source: The Star 20160309

Working to save Tambun Cave
The Star, 08 March 2016

Realising the importance of the preservation and conservation of all archaeological and heritage sites in Perak, the state government is set to revitalise the Tambun Cave by building facilities to ensure that the place does not lose its lustre. The caves are famous for its pre-historic drawings,

State Tourism, Arts, Culture, Communications and Multimedia Committee Chairman Datuk Nolee Ashilin Mohd Radzi told MetroPerak that the state government recently finalised the conservation plan for Tambun Cave including the proposal to build a proper entrance and other public amenities.

She said RM120,000has been allocated for the construction, which will commence this month.

Full story here.

Workshop: The Heritage of Ancient and Urban Sites

For readers in Singapore, the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre is holding a two-day seminar on the intersection between cultural heritage and public participation.

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The workshop will see presentations from Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore. Register by emailing nscevents@iseas.edu.sg

The Indian influence into the Malay Peninsula

An opinion piece in the Malaysian Insider about the influence of Indian culture into the Malayan peninsula during the early centuries CE.

Bujang Valley Museum

When Malays were Hindus and Buddhists were Indians
The Malaysian Insider, 09 January 2016

We often compress these vast-ranging influences into “cultures” or “traditions”, but this broad terminology certainly does not do justice to the deep influences of the Indians in Malaya.

The Hindu-Buddhist heritage of the Malay world, brought by the Indians, is in stark contrast with the rigidly defined notion of ethnicity and religion today.

The fluidity of movement no longer exists. Legal and societal barriers are constructed to eradicate remnants of fluid identity, which confuses and blurs the “fixed” identies of ethnicity and religion. Now, we cannot entertain the idea of a Malay being anything other than a Muslim.

The present disowns and refuses to come to terms with its past, as if their Indianised history, or the Indian era of Malaya, is impure.

The past is something to be buried, not celebrated. To be avoided and a lesson not to repeat.

Full story here.

Sungei Batu proposed to be a cultural gallery

A Malaysian archaeologist has proposed that the Sungei Batu site in Kedah, Malaysia should be made into a cultural gallery. Archaeological evidence from Sungei Batu is thought to be the site of an important iron-smelting port since 2,500 years ago.

Sungei Batu site in Kedah, Malaysia. Source: The Star 20151202
Sungei Batu site in Kedah, Malaysia. Source: The Star 20151202

Reliving ancient times
The Star, 02 December 2015

The Sungai Batu archaeology site, believed to be the oldest settlement in South-East Asia, should be turned into a living cultural gallery.

Director of USM’s Centre for Global Archaeological Research Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin said the site, some 20km from here, could be modelled after the Iron Museum in Seoul, South Korea.

He said the discovery of an ancient iron smelting foundry was proof there was internatio-nal demand, adding that around the jetty ruins were mounds of rubble containing iron slag and ingots.

“A living cultural gallery at the site will ‘revive’ the ancient civilisation in Merbok dating back 535 BC and it will certainly help to boost tourism here.

Full story here.

Support the Gua Tambun Heritage Awareness Project!

Gua Tambun is the largest rock art site in Peninsular Malaysia, and one that I studied for my MA years ago. So I am mighty pleased to urged your support for the Gua Tambun Heritage Awareness Project, run by my colleague Dr Goh Hsiao Mei. (Disclaimer: I am not personally involved with project, but I support it 100%!)

Gua Tambun rock art
Gua Tambun rock art

Dr Goh is currently building a public archaeology and outreach programme to help raise awareness and appreciation for the Gua Tambun site in Ipoh, and to empower the people living near the site to help manage it from both a conservation and visitor management standpoint.

She is currently raising funds to develop and conduct school programmes and community workshops and at the time of writing she has met a third of the RM4,300 (about US 1,000) that she needs. You can contribute to her cause on her crowdfunding website, the Gua Tambun Heritage Awareness Project.