Caving in to the splendour of Niah

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.

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)

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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