via PLOS One, 23 August 2023: A new paper by Huntley et al. on the Gua Sireh Cave in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, contains charcoal drawings dating back between 1670 to 1830 CE, depicting people engaged in various activities, shedding light on a period of conflict and Bidayuh resistance. Roundup of news stories below.
Gua Sireh, located in western Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo), is known for its rock art. The cave houses hundreds of charcoal drawings depicting people, often with headdresses, knives and other accoutrements. Here, we present direct radiocarbon dates and pigment characterizations from charcoal drawings of two large (>75 cm), unique Gua Sireh human figures (anthropomorphs). To our knowledge, these are the first chronometric ages generated for Malaysian rock art, providing insights into the social contexts of art production, as well as the opportunities and challenges of dating rock art associated with the Malay/Austronesian diasporas in Southeast Asia more generally. Previous archaeological excavations revealed that people occupied Gua Sireh from around 20,000 years ago to as recently as AD 1900. The site is within Bidayuh territory, and these local Indigenous peoples recall the cave’s use as a refuge during territorial violence in the early 1800s. The age of the drawings, dated between 280 and 120 cal BP (AD 1670 to 1830), corresponds with a period of increasing conflict when the Malay elites controlling the region exacted heavy tolls on the local hill tribes. We discuss rock art production at Gua Sireh in this context of frontier conflict and Bidayuh resistance.
- This cave on Borneo has been used for 20,000 years – and we’ve now dated rock art showing colonial resistance 400 years ago | The Conversation, 23 Aug 2023
- Borneo rock art depicts Indigenous resistance to centuries-old conflicts | Courthouse News Service, 23 Aug 2023
- Newly-dated cave art tells a dark story in Borneo’s history | Popular Science, 23 Aug 2023
- Malaysian Cave Art Appears to Depict Colonial-Era Conflicts | Gizmodo, 23 Aug 2023
- Malaysian rock art found to depict elite–Indigenous conflict | Griffith University/Phys.org, 23 Aug 2023
- Malaysian Rock Art Found To Depict Elite–Indigenous Conflict | Eurasia Review, 24 Aug 2023
- Malaysian Cave Art May Depict Colonial-Era Violence | Hyperallergic, 24 Aug 2023
- Radiocarbon Dating of Borneo Cave Art Tells a Hidden History of Centuries-Old Indigenous Resistance | ArtNews, 24 Aug 2023
- This cave on Borneo has been used for 20,000 years – and we’ve now dated rock art showing colonial resistance 400 years ago | UWA News, 24 Aug 2023
- Cave Art From the Past 350 Years Tells of Colonial Strife | Discover, 29 Aug 2023
- These Malaysian Cave Drawings Reflect Colonial-Era Conflicts | Smithsonian, 30 Aug 2023