Special: Six new Neolithic burials from Sarawak revealed

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This morning, the Centre for Archaeology Research, Malaysia at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang unveiled two sets of burials from the Niah cave complex in Sarawak and Pulau Kelumpang in Perak. Check out the new finds in this special  SEAArch web report.

Six human burials excavated from Gua Kain Hitam, Niah, Sarawak in June 2007.

Six human burials excavated from Gua Kain Hitam, Niah, Sarawak in June 2007.

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Unearthing Malacca's earliest skeletons

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Remember the ancient bastions of fortress Malacca that was discovered late 2006 (see here and here)? There were also four 13th century skeletons discovered at the site, which was being analysed in the Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia (where I’m based). They were having the press conference at the centre on Friday morning to announce the piece of news. Over the weekend, we also had the National Archaeology Seminar where we heard a paper presented about the skeletal finds from the site.


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Spotlight on Sabah's stone age culture

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22 April 2007 (New Straits Times) – Today’s NST features a special spotlight on the stone age culture – past and ethnographic present. The first story is about the prehistory ceramics industrial site at Bukit Tengkorak (Tengkorak Hill).

New Straits Times, 22 Apr 2007

SpotLight: Stone Age Potters

Tampi villagers today don’t think twice about using clay from the foot of Bukit Tengkorak and nearby areas in southeastern Sabah for their pottery, digging wells for fresh water, burning wood for fuel and eating a wide range of fish, shellfish and molluscs.

But most of them are unaware that from about 3,000 until 2,000 years ago, people at the summit of the 600-foot hill did the same–when the Semporna peninsula was a late Stone Age population hub and craft centre.

Experts from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), the Sabah Museum Department and the Department of Natural Heritage have found millions of sherds which show that the site about five kilometres from Semporna town was one of the largest, if not the largest, pottery making sites in Island Southeast Asia (SEA) and the Pacific during the Neolithic era (the last part of the Stone Age, beginning 8,000 BC).

Their findings have overturned some theories about how prehistoric people lived and traded in the region.

Until the excavations here, archaeologists believed that long-distance sea trade and migration of people in insular SEA and the Pacific moved east from Melanesia (near Papua New Guinea) to Polynesia, leaving behind what is known as the “Lapita culture” of pottery, stone tools and ornaments.

“Our research at Bukit Tengkorak shows that 3,000 years ago, people were not only moving east towards New Britain in Melanesia but also westwards towards Sabah,” explains Dr Stephen Chia of USM’s Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia, who based his PhD thesis on the site.

“This is one of the longest trading routes in the world during the Neolithic period,” says the archeochemist who found obsidian (a volcanic glass used to make tools) at the site and traced it chemically to Talasea in New Britain, 3500 kilometres away. His fieldwork in Southeast Asia also found stone tools and pottery similar to Bukit Tengkorak in the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and Sulawesi.

The second story covers the Bajau people who live in the vicinity of Bukit Tengkorak on the Semporna peninsula of Sabah – the clay stoves produced by the Bajau are remarkably similar to the 3,000-year-old stoves unearthed nearby, implying an unbroken ceramics manufacturing tradition.

New Straits Times, 22 Apr 2007

Bajaus carrying on a long tradition

The finished handiwork of this Bajau woman in Sabah’s southeastern Semporna peninsula looks exactly like the 3,000-year-old stove unearthed at nearby Bukit Tengkorak.

“Pottery has been made like this for hundreds of years,” says Rogayah. “Each house has a stove to grill fish or satay and cook rice.”

“The way of life of the Bajaus today and the food they eat are similar to what we found on site,” says Dr Stephen Chia of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia.

“We think that the nomadic Bajau Laut may have landed here to trade, mend their nets, dry fish and bury their dead, but it was the settled coastal Bajaus who made the pottery.”
However, he cautions: “The people of Bukit Tengkorak could also be a totally different group of maritime people who shifted here and then moved on.”


Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood

Ministry To Fund Archeological Research In Bukit Tengkorak

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21 April 2007 (Bernama) – Archaeological research in Bukit Tengkorak, Sabah, on a prehistoric ceramics manufacturing site is set to continue, to unravel more answers on the migration and dispersal routes from island Southeast Asia to the pacific islands.

Ministry To Fund Archeological Research In Bukit Tengkorak

The Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry will allocate sufficient funds to enable the archeological research in Bukit Tengkorak to continue.

The National Heritage Department, meanwhile, will fully finance the repair of public facilities in the area for visitors’ comfort.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim told reporters this when visiting Bukit Tengkorak, about 10km from Semporna town, today.

The archeological research in Bukit Tengkorak, located about 500ft above sea level, and its surrounding areas began in 1994 by a team from the Malaysian Archeological Research Centre of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in cooperation with the Sabah Museum Department.

The research shows that Bukit Tengkorak was probably the biggest porcelain manufacturing site in Southeast Asia, especially during the Neolithic age.

Over five million pieces of ceramic wares with various patterns, aged about 3,000 years, have been found there.


Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood

Kinabatangan Valley, The Resting Place Of Timber Coffins

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4 April 2007 (Bernama) – 700-year-old timber coffins found in Sabah, a whole lot of them, from a period where little is known about Sabah and Borneo. The coffins are said to have some similarities with those found in China and Vietnam, which is plausible as Borneo rested in the middle of trade routes between China and Island Southeast Asia – some Chinese accounts also report of Chinese communities living on Borneo.

Kinabatangan Valley, The Resting Place Of Timber Coffins

Lembah Kinabatangan, located in Sabah’s central region, is not only renowned for its vast oil palm plantations. The valley is also the resting place of priceless treasures in the form of “timber coffins”.

It is believed that about 2,000 timber coffins, some as old as 1,000 years, dotted the Kinabatangan Valley, making the area one of the nation’s important archeological sites.

Many of the coffins, made from hard wood like belian and merbau, are found in several caves at the valley.

Among the caves is Agop Batu Tulug in Kampung Batu Putih, Kinabatangan, turned into an archeological site by the Sabah Museum Department on July 6, 1995.

The Sabah Museum authorities, with collaboration from the National Museum and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), are now carrying out restoration works in efforts to conserve the timber coffins found in the valley.


Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz

Tracing back Malaysia's stone-age man in Lenggong

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17 March 2007 (The Brunei Times) – Liz Price’s feature in the Brunei Times about the archaeolgical finds in Lenggong, Perak, including the Perak Man, Kota Tampan site, Gua Gunung Runtuh and Gua Harimau.

The Brunei Times, 17 Mar 2007

Tracing back Malaysia’s stone-age man in Lenggong

PERAK Man, Peninsular Malaysia’s oldest inhabitant, is well travelled despite his great age of 11,000 years. A few years ago he went to Japan for an exhibition, and in 2001 and again in 2006 he visited Kuala Lumpur where he starred in his own exhibition called Perak Man. Now he is having a well deserved rest and is back in his native Perak, where he is residing in the new Lenggong Museum. He is, after all, one of the most important inhabitants to have lived in Malaysia, because his bones survived to tell the tale. Perak Man, found in 1991, is the only complete human skeleton found in Malaysia. The cave which was his final resting place is called Gua Gunung Runtuh and is situated in Bukit Kepala Gajah in the Lenggong Valley in Ulu Perak. The skeleton, found by Prof Zuraini Majid and her team from Universiti Sains Malaysia, has been dated about 11,000 years, which makes him a Stone Age man, from the Palaeolithic period. It is believed Perak Man was an important member of his tribe judging by the way he was buried, in a foetal position, and accompanied by stone tools. He was about 157cm tall and probably aged between 40-50 when he died. He had an atrophied left hand and one finger was deformed. The skeleton, remnants of tools and food such as shells and animal bones were found in the cave as well. The first time I went up to the Lenggong area, I visited Gua Gunung Runtuh. Although there was nothing to see except for the pits dug in the floor by the archaeological researchers, it was easy to get the imagination going, and to reflect on how Perak Man and his fellow humans had used that cave as a shelter. The Lenggong valley is one of Peninsular Malaysia’s most important areas for archaeology, as excavations have revealed many traces of Malaysia’s prehistory. The town of Lenggong is situated some 100km north of Ipoh on the Kuala Kangsar to Grik road.