Malaysia's best-kept archaeological attraction

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The Star features the archaeological museum at Bujang Valley, an hour’s drive away from the popular tourist destination of Penang. The article has a questionable reference of the Bujang Valley being once known as Nusantara – the term ‘Nusantara’ is actually a term to refer to the entire Malay world (from modern Malaysia, Indonesia to Southern Philippines, or in some cases just Indonesia). For more detailed information about Bujang Valley, check out the SEAArch special reports here and here.

Bujang Valley treasures
The Star, 21 October 2008
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Wednesday Rojak #15

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We’ve got a majority of posts from Cambodia in this edition, so let’s just roll up our sleeves and tuck in:

  • Alvin brings us updates on a film in production – Jayavarman VII, considered to be the greatest king of Angkor.
  • Archaeology Magazine brings us the top ten discoveries of 2007 – not surprisingly, the discovery of greater Angkor makes the list.
  • Visithra shares some stunning photographs of the Angkoran temples of Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and Bantaey Samre.
  • While Romeo blogs about Angkor Wat.
  • And in our only non-Angkor post for this edition of Wednesday Rojak, we read from the blog of John Cheong, who is exploring West Malaysia on a bicycle. In this post, he makes a visit to the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum.

In this series of weekly rojaks (published on Wednesdays) I’ll feature other sites in the blogosphere that are of related to archaeology in Southeast Asia. Got a recommendation for the next Wednesday rojak? Email me!

Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum

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Last week, I featured the reconstructed temples (‘candi’) that populate Kedah’s Bujang Valley in Malaysia, an area rich in archaeological finds dating as far back as the 5th century. Today, we’ll explore the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum, which sits at the entrance of the archaeological park.

Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum - Interior

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about visiting the museum. I had heard reports that due to the growing influence of Islam in the country, the Bujang Valley Archaeological Archaeological Museum was somewhat muted in mentioning that the port settlement that once resided in Bujang Valley was Buddhist and Hindu (see comments to this post). Fortunately, I can gladly say that there was no such attempt to gloss the past, and the museum was very frank to point out the ancient Buddhist and Hindu influences on the civilisation that once flourished here.

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An archaeological region older than Angkor Wat

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March 2009 update: New excavations by the Centre for Global Archaeology Research at Universiti Sains Malaysia have unearthed evidence for an iron-smelting facility in the Bujang Valley, dating to 300CE and the earliest example for Malaysia. See here and here.

When the British acquired the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah, they probably did not realise that they were just 40km away from ancient settlement that once also was a port of call for traders entering the Malacca Strait. The settlement in the Bujang Valley dates as far back as the 5th century, and as I was in Penang the couple weeks ago to see my supervisor, it was impossible to not make a side trip to one of Malaysia’s most underrated archaeological sites.

Candi Bukit Batu Pahat

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Ancient landfall

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4 June 2006 (The Hindu) – A feature story on the archaeology of the Bujang Valley in Malaysia and connections with the South Indian Pallava dynasty.

20060604 The Hindu

Ancient landfall

On a trip to Malaysia, we drove into the green Bujang Valley in Kedah, the oldest State in Malaysia. And we learnt that it is recognised as the oldest State because foreign sailors set up an ancient trading settlement there in the Fifth Century A.D. These “foreign sailors” were Tamils, subjects of the Pallavas. But the Bujang Valley had been mentioned in a Tamil poem, “Pattanopolai”, as far back as the Second or Third Century A.D. There, the Bujang Valley is called Kalagan, which philologists claim eventually gave rise to the modern-day Kedah.

All this, and much more, is given in great detail in the well-appointed Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum at Bukit Batu Pahat. The Museum, in thick rain forests, is backed by the Kedah Peak, now known as Gunung Jerai and towering to a height of 2,100 metres above the flat hinterland plains of the Straits of Malacca. According to historian Dato James F. Augustin: “Pallava traders from India’s Coromandel Coast began to explore the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal in search of spices, sandalwood, ivory, gold and tin.”


Related Books:
Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXVIII, Pt. 1
Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic society, Vol. XLIII, Part 1
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)