Sarawak, Malaysia (Miri or Kuching)
40,000 years BP
Creative Commons image by iJER
Archaeological evidence from the Niah caves brings us back 40,000 years ago – to the earliest example of the modern humans in Southeast Asia, from a skull fragment. But even more amazing is that the stratigraphy of Niah shows that the cave has been in use by early humans since that time, judging from the assembly of stone tools, shell ornaments and pottery that traces its occupation from the Pleistocene right up to the metal age.
Among the human remains, the deep skull from the ‘hell’ – named for the unbearable heat conditions during the excavation season – carries an associated radiocarbon date of 40,000 years BP. Neolithic extended burials and later-period secondary jar burials were also found in the massive cave. In addition, rock art bearing the ‘ship of the dead’ motif is associated with a burial area in the cave.
Today, the cave is the highlight of the Niah National Park, a nature-lovers’ stopover. An archaeological museum sits near the entrance of the cave. Niah is approximately two hour’s drive away from the nearest airport city, Miri.
More on the Niah caves and the prehistory of Southeast Asia in:
– Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
– 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)
– Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood