More reports on the Neolithic skeletons from Sarawak

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The coverage of the Neolithic skeletons unearthed in Sarawak continues… (Read my fuller account here).

Malaysian archaeologists find complete Neolithic skeletons
AFP, via The Nation (Pakistan), 19 September 2008

Neolithic skeletons found: report
SBS, 19 September 2008

Skeletons shed light on humans during Neolithic age

The Star, 19 September 2008
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Malaysian reports on the Gua Hitam skeletons

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As expected, most of the Malaysian papers carried reports about yesterday’s press conference on the excavation of six skeletons from Gua Kain Hitam in Sarawak and Pulau Kelumpang in Perak. You can read my account here.

Proof of Neolithic presence
New Straits Times, 19 September 2008

Archaeologists discover Neolithic-era skeletons
The Star, 18 September 2008

Prehistoric human remains found in Perak, Sarawak
The Sun, 18 September 2008

USM Researchers Find Prehistoric Human Skeletons In Gua [Kain] Hitam, Sarawak
Bernama, 18 September 2008
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Special: Six new Neolithic burials from Sarawak revealed


This morning, the Centre for Archaeology Research, Malaysia at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang unveiled two sets of burials from the Niah cave complex in Sarawak and Pulau Kelumpang in Perak. Check out the new finds in this special  SEAArch web report.

Six human burials excavated from Gua Kain Hitam, Niah, Sarawak in June 2007.

Six human burials excavated from Gua Kain Hitam, Niah, Sarawak in June 2007.

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Negritos or Malays: Who are the original inhabitants of the Philippines?


When I was younger, I remember reading in a Filipino children’s book that the Filipinos were made up of a migratory Malay population. I didn’t think much of it then until this article came up which challenges the notion of the indigenous Filipino.

Who are the indigenous?
The Philippine Inquirer, 12 February 2008
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The archaeology of Lake Kenyir, Terengganu

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02 June 2007 (The Brunei Times)Liz Price writes a travel piece on the Tasik Kenyir, or Kenyir Lake, the largest man-made lake in Southeast Asia and also home to a few archaeological cave sites.

Terengganu’s Kenyir Lake beckons for a spelunking adventure

Before the creation of the lake, there were several caves accessible, some of archaeological importance. However, when the area was flooded, most of the caves were lost underwater. Prior to their disappearance, archaeologists had discovered Neolithic artifacts such as kitchen utensils, stone adzes and pottery sherds.

Even a Neolithic burial was found, with broken pottery laid at the foot of the deceased. The Neolithic or New Stone Age era occurred roughly 10,000 years ago. The cave was probably adjacent to two well-known routes used by the aborigines in prehistoric times through Terengganu to Sungai Tembling.

Now there are two remaining limestone hills containing caves that can only be reached by boat. Gua Bewah is the biggest of the known caves. From the floating jetty a steep flight of steps leads up to the entrance situated 40m above lake level.

Read the full story about spelunking in Tasik Kenyir.
(Stories from the Brunei Times only appear for about 24 hours, so if it is no longer available, you may wish to email me)

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

Spotlight on Sabah's stone age culture

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22 April 2007 (New Straits Times) – Today’s NST features a special spotlight on the stone age culture – past and ethnographic present. The first story is about the prehistory ceramics industrial site at Bukit Tengkorak (Tengkorak Hill).

New Straits Times, 22 Apr 2007

SpotLight: Stone Age Potters

Tampi villagers today don’t think twice about using clay from the foot of Bukit Tengkorak and nearby areas in southeastern Sabah for their pottery, digging wells for fresh water, burning wood for fuel and eating a wide range of fish, shellfish and molluscs.

But most of them are unaware that from about 3,000 until 2,000 years ago, people at the summit of the 600-foot hill did the same–when the Semporna peninsula was a late Stone Age population hub and craft centre.

Experts from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), the Sabah Museum Department and the Department of Natural Heritage have found millions of sherds which show that the site about five kilometres from Semporna town was one of the largest, if not the largest, pottery making sites in Island Southeast Asia (SEA) and the Pacific during the Neolithic era (the last part of the Stone Age, beginning 8,000 BC).

Their findings have overturned some theories about how prehistoric people lived and traded in the region.

Until the excavations here, archaeologists believed that long-distance sea trade and migration of people in insular SEA and the Pacific moved east from Melanesia (near Papua New Guinea) to Polynesia, leaving behind what is known as the “Lapita culture” of pottery, stone tools and ornaments.

“Our research at Bukit Tengkorak shows that 3,000 years ago, people were not only moving east towards New Britain in Melanesia but also westwards towards Sabah,” explains Dr Stephen Chia of USM’s Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia, who based his PhD thesis on the site.

“This is one of the longest trading routes in the world during the Neolithic period,” says the archeochemist who found obsidian (a volcanic glass used to make tools) at the site and traced it chemically to Talasea in New Britain, 3500 kilometres away. His fieldwork in Southeast Asia also found stone tools and pottery similar to Bukit Tengkorak in the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and Sulawesi.

The second story covers the Bajau people who live in the vicinity of Bukit Tengkorak on the Semporna peninsula of Sabah – the clay stoves produced by the Bajau are remarkably similar to the 3,000-year-old stoves unearthed nearby, implying an unbroken ceramics manufacturing tradition.

New Straits Times, 22 Apr 2007

Bajaus carrying on a long tradition

The finished handiwork of this Bajau woman in Sabah’s southeastern Semporna peninsula looks exactly like the 3,000-year-old stove unearthed at nearby Bukit Tengkorak.

“Pottery has been made like this for hundreds of years,” says Rogayah. “Each house has a stove to grill fish or satay and cook rice.”

“The way of life of the Bajaus today and the food they eat are similar to what we found on site,” says Dr Stephen Chia of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia.

“We think that the nomadic Bajau Laut may have landed here to trade, mend their nets, dry fish and bury their dead, but it was the settled coastal Bajaus who made the pottery.”
However, he cautions: “The people of Bukit Tengkorak could also be a totally different group of maritime people who shifted here and then moved on.”

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood

Amateur archaeologist illuminates past

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15 Apr 2007 (Viet Nam News) – It’s quite interesting to hear about ‘amateur archaeologists’ nowadays, particularly from this part of the world. This man collected some 7,500 stone artefacts over a span of 17 years. I find it quite interesting that the archaeology authorities commend him for his collection efforts rather than the loss of valuable context. Still, the alternative may be worse if the artefacts become ground to make drugs for folk use.

Amateur archaeologist illuminates past

It was almost 17 years ago when Van Dinh Thanh, while panning for gold on the banks of the Po Co River in Sa Thay Commune, reached down and picked up what he thought was a golden nugget. On closer inspection he discovered that the object was a worked piece of stone. Later he was to learn that it was a prehistoric stone hammer. The discovery fired his passion for ancient artefacts and was the start of the young gold prospector’s new life as an amateur archaeologist.

Thanh’s collection now numbers 7,000 artefacts and is the largest in the province. The artefacts date from the 500 BC to 5500 BC and include stone axes, drills, hoes, jewellery and Bon Rang Trau, an agricultural tool shaped like a buffalo’s teeth. The collection is divided into three categories: the Neolithic era (New Stone Age), Mesolithic era (Middle Stone Age) and Palaeolithic era (Old Stone Age). Experts say his collection is invaluable to understanding the anthropology of the region.

“I highly appreciate what Thanh has done,” says Professor Nguyen Khac Su from the Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology, who was a member of the group that visited Thanh’s house in 1991. “The standard of education among those living in the gold fields of Lung Leng is very low. They assume that these tools are ‘hammers of god’ and often grind them down to make drugs for their children. Other people throw them away because they are scared of the prehistoric remains.”

Related Books:
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
Stone adzes of Southeast Asia;: An illustrated typology (Canterbury Museum bulletin) by R. Duff

Possible Vietnam prehistoric site to be submerged soon

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4 April 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – What is the best way to deal with a situation like this. The state decides to build a dam. Two months into the construction of the dam, a trove of archaeological artefacts are found, smack in the middle where the water catchment is supposed to be. Hopefully, the Vietnam Archaeology Institute will be able to organise a salvage dig.

Neolithic artifacts from Dak Nong province

Possible Vietnam prehistoric site to be submerged soon

A farmer in central Vietnam has collected over 1,000 suspected Neolithic Period artifacts found locally but the site of his farm is soon to be submerged under a dam.

Dr Nguyen Gia Doi of the Vietnam Archaeology Institute said the objects might date back to 3,500 – 4,000 BCE after visiting Nguyen The Vinh’s farm in the central highlands’ Dak Nong province.

Vinh has shards of pottery and tools like axes and spearheads, chisels, and pots all found inn the area in the last four years.

Related Books:
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham