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Niah Caves
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

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One Reply to “5 Southeast Asian archaeology sites to visit (that are not Angkor)”

  1. I am not sure what archeologists think of the restoration done in Trowulan archeological site, but its good to see that they really try to preserve and protect the sites, even with limited resources. It is a pity though as its not part of the tourist candi trail.

    In contrast, from what i saw 3 years ago…MySon as well as the Cham museum get a lot of tourists but seems to be struggling with restoration and maintenance. Really surprising to see. I did notice that there were 3 related museums there (the on-site one, the nearby one that probably never sees visitors, the Champa museum in Danang with its so few exhibits), so is it a case of spreading resources thin?

    Anyway, it is quite understandable for Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia to have to spread its resources among many many sites. But for Vietnam (and also Malaysia), I really wonder why, especially noting their huge tourism budgets and how the few sites they have can possibly bring in more tourists. Its probably not about availability of funds.

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