via Kuching In and Out, March 2019: Nicholas Gani writes about the archaeology of the Sarawak River.
The Sarawak River has played a central role in the history of Sarawak (whose name is derived from the river), and its capital, Kuching. One of the most well-known events in the history of the state occurred on the banks of the Sarawak River – the arrival of James Brooke, which opened the door for the Brooke family’s rule over Sarawak beginning 1841. Today, on both banks of the river in the vicinity of the Kuching city centre, we can see historical buildings that serve as reminders of the Brooke period; the Astana, Fort Margherita and the Old Courthouse, to name but a few examples.
From an archaeological perspective, rivers were important as ‘cradles’ of civilisations. The Sarawak River is no different in this respect. For hundreds (and possibly, thousands) of years prior to the Brooke rule, the Sarawak River and its tributaries have been home to the lives and activities of various Sarawak peoples. We can get a glimpse of the cultural antiquity of the Sarawak River by looking at the archaeological discoveries made in particular in its great river mouths, as well as in its upper tributaries, in the Santubong (or the Sarawak River delta) area, and in Bau (widely referred to in the past as Upper Sarawak), respectively.
The Sarawak government will re-submit nomination for the Niah Caves National Park in Miri Division to be a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Site, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg said today.
He said an archaeological works carried out by researchers from University of New South Wales, Australia, showed evidence of human settlements at the caves dated back to about 65,000 years ago.
“On record, human settlements in other parts of the world is about 40,000 years ago, but the Niah caves have evidence to show that the settlement was much more earlier,” he said at the opening of the stakeholders consultation on the proposed forestry policies here.
via Borneo Post, 22 October 2018: New materials recovered from the Niah Cave complex pushes the dates of human habitation to 65,000 years and shedding light into early modern humans in Southeast Asia.
Darren Curnoe. Source: Borneo Post 20181012
Human civilisation has been established to exist as far back as 65,000 years ago at Niah Caves complex, Sarawak – vastly exceeding the previous estimate of 35,000 years following the initial discovery of the ‘Deep Skull lady’ at the cave complex.
Discovered in the Niah Caves back in 1958, the ‘Deep Skull lady’ are remains of a female human skull that was ascribed an age of about 35,000 years, making it one of the oldest modern humans discovered in South-East Asia.
For readers in Malaysia, Kazanah Borneo (‘The Treasures of Borneo’) is a documentary starting on Thursday, 27 September 2018 featuring several archaeological sites in Malaysian Borneo. The programme airs on TV1 at 4.30 pm.
1. Kota Kinabalu 27/9
2. Agop Batu Tulug, Kinabatangan 4/10
3. Lembah Mansuli, Lahad Datu 11/10
4. Tingkayu, Kunak 18/10
5. Gua Madai 25/10
6. Bukit Tengkorak, Semporna 1/11
7. Kuching Bahagian 1 8/11
8. Kuching Bahagian 2 15/11
9. Santubong 22/11
10. Gua Batu Sireh, Serian 29/11
11. Gua Niah Bahagian 1 6/12
12. Gua Niah Bahagian 2 13/12
13. ‘The Grand Old Lady’, Miri 20/12
Highlands is possibly an ancient and, at the same time, a continuous one. Recent archaeological research suggests that some of the earliest stone mounds were constructed as early as around 2,500 years ago. Excavations conducted at a number of megalithic sites in the Kelabit Highlands have also found an array of artefacts such as cremated bones, stone and glass beads, local earthenware and trade ceramics, and metal objects belonging to different time periods between 2,000 and a few hundred years ago. Among the Kelabit, megalithic practices were observed until around 1950, when the tradition ceased owing to modernisation and the people’s conversion to Christianity. Traditionally, megaliths were built during irau (‘feast’) as part of elaborate funerary rites of elite members of the Kelabit society. The batuh nangan and the lungun batuh, for example, were burial monuments where the bones of the deceased were placed in a secondary burial event known as burak nulang. The batuh senuped, on the other hand, commemorated the deceased or marked the location of the grave. The perupun, besides functioning as memorials, are also said to be the final repositories for the valuable properties (beads, gongs and jars) of heirless elites.
The skeletal remains of Late Pleistocene-early Holocene humans are exceptionally rare in island Southeast Asia. As a result, the identity and physical adaptations of the early inhabitants of the region are poorly known. One archaeological locality that has historically been important for understanding the peopling of island Southeast Asia is the Niah Caves in the northeast of Borneo. Here we present the results of direct Uranium-series dating and the first published descriptions of three partial human mandibles from the West Mouth of the Niah Caves recovered during excavations by the Harrissons in 1957. One of them (mandible E/B1 100″) is somewhat younger than the ‘Deep Skull’ with a best dating estimate of c30-28 ka (at 2σ), while the other two mandibles (D/N5 42–48″ and E/W 33 24–36″) are dated to a minimum of c11.0–10.5 ka (at 2σ) and c10.0–9.0 ka (at 2σ). Jaw E/B1 100″ is unusually small and robust compared with other Late Pleistocene mandibles suggesting that it may have been ontogenetically altered through masticatory strain under a model of phenotypic plasticity. Possible dietary causes could include the consumption of tough or dried meats or palm plants, behaviours which have been documented previously in the archaeological record of the Niah Caves. Our work suggests a long history back to before the LGM of economic strategies involving the exploitation of raw plant foods or perhaps dried and stored meat resources. This offers new insights into the economic strategies of Late Pleistocene-early Holocene hunter-gatherers living in, or adjacent to, tropical rainforests.
FURTHER studies and researches are being conducted to determine if the first human civilisation in Southeast Asia started from Sarawak’s very own background, which is the Niah Caves tucked within Miri division.
Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales is on his three-week excavation of the Niah Caves in Sarawak and he will be tweeting and broadcasting his experiences on Facebook Live. You can follow his progress here:
Darren Curnoe – Anthropologist. 80 likes. Biological anthropologist and archaeologist with an insatiable curiosity about the kind of creature we are and how we came to be this way.