Reassessing the Deep Skull from Niah

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

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.

Repatriating skeletons and nominating Niah as a World Heritage Site

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The Borneo Archaeology Seminar just concluded in Miri yesterday. I was hoping to attend to listen to a couple of rock art papers, but other work kept me busy. The media coverage from the seminar is focused on the speech by the Chief Minister of Sarawak, who suggested that the burials that were removed from the Niah Caves (now residing outside of the country) should be returned, but not before there are adequate facilities in the Sarawak Museum to house them. There was also a suggestion to nominate Niah as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We shall see in the coming years how these develop!

Niah Caves Should Be A World Heritage Site
Bernama, 28 October 2010

Bring back Niah Caves artefacts from abroad, says Chief Minister
Borneo Post, 29 October 2010

Museum’s request for restructuring gets CM’s nod
Borneo Post, 29 October 2010
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5 Southeast Asian archaeology sites to visit (that are not Angkor)

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Forget Angkor. Sure, it’s one of the largest religious monuments in the world, and you gotta admit that with spectacular architecture, sculpture and bas-reliefs there’s no wonder over two million people visited Cambodia last year. But the archaeological sites in Southeast Asian are so much more than the 11th century temple to Vishnu.

With some suggestions from the facebook group, SEAArch gives you the internet tour of five other spectacular archaeological sites in Southeast Asia open to the casual visitor – and three of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So step in and take a look at some of the other great sites Southeast Asia has to offer – in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and yes, even Singapore!

Note: The names in parentheses denote the nearest airport.

Caving in to the splendour of Niah

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02 June 2007 (The Brunei Times) – Another travel piece on Malaysia, this time East Malaysia in the Niah Caves of Sarawak. The Niah Caves are recognised as a World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest habitation sites in Southeast Asia, with evidence going as far back as 40,000 years ago. The Niah Caves also house some of the largest collections of rock art in Southeast Asia.

Caving in to the splendour of Niah

Not only is Niah Cave one of the most significant archaeological locations in Southeast Asia, it’s also an important geological formation and home to important cave dwellers like swiftlets and bats. Archaeologists get excited at the mere mention of Niah Cave as human remains dating back some 40,000 before the present were discovered here in the massive limestone caves.

The on-site Archaeological Museum documents this very well and there are some original and constructed remains on display. The Great Cave was a burial site for at least 166 Homo sapiens. Archaeological digs were conducted here under the watchful eye of Tom Harrisson, the former ethnologist with Sarawak Museum. His research hut still stands at the mouth of the cave located 4km from the park entrance.

Further along the dark trail is the Painted Cave where the remains of paintings can be found stretching along 32m of rock wall but safely guarded by an iron fence. Perhaps World Heritage status would result in the injection of some money which could better protect these paintings so that visitors could get closer for a better view.

Read more about visiting the Niah Caves in Sarawak
(Stories from the Brunei Times only appear for about 24 hours, so if it is no longer available, you may wish to email me)

Books about the caves at Niah, including the skeletal burials:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds) has a paper entitled: Bones from ‘Hell’: Preliminary Results of New Work on the Harrisson Faunal Assemblage from the Deepest Part of Niah Cave, Sarawak
-Reconstructing human subsistence in the West Mouth (Niah Cave, Sarawak) burial series using stable isotopes of carbon by J. Krigbaum
-The archaeology of foraging and farming at Niah Cave, Sarawak by G. Barker
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)