New paper on the Bujang Valley by Stephen Murphy:
In the early 1830s and 1840s, a British colonial official by the name of Colonel James Low uncovered evidence for an early culture with Indic traits in a river system known as the Bujang Valley. On the west coast of the Thai-Malay peninsula, the Bujang Valley is today located in the Malaysian state of Kedah. However, it wasn’t until just before World War II that excavations took place, conducted by H. G. Quaritch Wales and his wife Dorothy. Their discoveries and subsequent publications led to the first real attempts to explain the origins and extent of this civilisation and its place within the larger South and Southeast Asian world. In the intervening years between Quaritch Wales’s excavations and the present day, considerably more research has taken place within the Bujang Valley, though this has not been without controversy. Recently claims and counter-claims regarding the antiquity of Hinduism and Buddhism at the site have arisen in some quarters within Malaysia. It therefore seems pertinent that this material be re-evaluated in light of new scholarship and discoveries as well as the prevailing paradigms of interactions between South and Southeast Asia. This paper presents an updated reading of this material and argues that the Bujang Valley should be seen as a cosmopolitan trading port with substantive evidence for the presence of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Source: Revisiting the Bujang Valley: A Southeast Asian entrepôt complex on the maritime trade route | Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society | Cambridge Core
via New Straits Times, 11 November 2017: Archaeoturism at the Sungei Batu site.
If you’re now thinking that this is a recently discovered lost civilisation in the dense tropical jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula or South America, built by either the fearsome Mayans or Aztecs, well think again. This latest ground-breaking discovery predating many well-known ancient civilisations is found right here in our very own backyard. To be exact, it’s located in Malaysia’s northern state of Kedah.
Armed with these tantalising facts related to me recently by a friend, I make my way to the main entrance of the Sungai Batu archaeological site. I’m excited and ready to see for myself the many amazing discoveries that are set to rewrite history textbooks in the near future.
Acting on my friend’s advice, I quickly sign up for a guided tour that costs only RM10 for locals. The tour, conducted by graduate students of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), allows visitors access into many key areas within the excavation complex which currently houses nearly 100 excavated sites. Be forewarned that most of these important sites are off-limits to those who opt for free access to the area.
Source: Old-new history of ancient Kedah | New Straits Times | Malaysia General Business Sports and Lifestyle News
via New Straits Times, 23 July 2017: A feature on the cannons of Kota Kuala Kedah in northern Malaysia.
Cannons were already in common use in Europe by the mid 14th century. During that same time the Arabs began using cannons as effective siege machines during their assaults on Spain. By the time Lopez D’Sequeira visited Melaka in 1509, the Malay sultanate was said to have around 8,000 pieces of this type of artillery in its possession.
After conquering Melaka in 1511, Alfonso D’Albuquerque reported that one third of the Malay cannons were made of iron while the rest were cast from brass. He was reported to have said that the workmanship of the cannons he confiscated couldn’t be excelled even back home in Portugal.
Among those captured by the Portuguese were large cannons or meriam. However, their numbers paled in comparison with the more common long pieces called lela.
Source: When the Malay cannons boomed | New Straits Times | Malaysia General Business Sports and Lifestyle News
Malay Mail, 09 June 2017: Given the evidence of intense iron smelting activity in Kedah, archaeologists are now turning their focus to finding evidence of how people lived there and the nature of the settlement.
Tucked between plantations along a quiet country road near Merbok, Kedah, a team of archaeologists and students are busily excavating at a site that is known as South-east Asia’s oldest civilisation.
This is Kedah Tua in Sungai Batu, an ancient civilisation that dates back to 535 BC, earlier even than Borobudur in Java (9th century AD) and Angkor Wat, Cambodia (12th century AD).
That’s not all… this kingdom was a major iron exporter at the time, complete with mines, a smelting factory, a port and administrative buildings to support the industry.
What is missing are remnants of a palace, its thriving city and the burial sites of its people
Source: Archaeologists search for a king in Sungai Batu
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.
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
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
A state minister in Malaysia has criticised the federal government of Malaysia for not protecting the Bujang Valley in Kedah as a heritage site.
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.
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
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.
Archaeologists in Malaysia working at the Sungei Batu archaeological site have reportedly discovered the remains of several shipwrecks, but funds are lacking to investigate further. The finds are consistent with previous work at the site which has uncovered the presence of jetties and the former river in the area.
Sungei Batu Archaeological Site
Ancient Ships Discovered At Sungai Batu Archaeological Site
Bernama, 31 August 2015
Ancient shipwrecks find may force a rewrite of SEA history
The Star, 02 September 2015
Using ground penetrating radar, archaelogists have discovered outlines of more than five ships between 5m and 10m underground at the Sungai Batu Archaelogical Site, near Semeling, about 20km from here.
“This was once an ancient river with a width of about 100m and a depth of 30m. Now it is a swampy wetland,” said archaelogical team member Azman Abdullah.
Signs of the first shipwreck was unearthed in 2011 not far from the ruins of a jetty made of flattish square bricks.
“We dug until we found a 2m-long mast head lying horizontally. The wood had softened but it was still miraculously well preserved.
“We were excited and dug through the wet mud every day,” said Azman, 54. To the team’s horror, the excavation pit collapsed in 2012 after they reached a depth of 5m.
Fulls stories here and here.
Readers may be interested in this seminar on the Bujang Valley at the National University of Singapore.
Revisiting the Bujang Valley: An Entrepôt Complex at the Heart of the Maritime Silk Route
Dr Stephen Murphy
Date: 29 October 2014
Time: 3 pm
Venue: National University of Singapre. Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Block AS1, #03-04, 11 Arts Link, Singapore 117570