Earlier this month, on Saturday 2 March 2013, museum volunteers were held spell-bound by Shaiful Idzwan who gave a talk to the volunteers on archaeology in Malaysia with focus on pre-historic skeletons in Lenggong Valley.
Shaiful started the talk by discussing some of the famous pre-historic sites in Malaysia including Guar Kepar in Penang, Gua Cha in Kelantan, Lenggong in Perak and Niah in Sarawak. He also talked about the log coffin burials in Kinabatangan, Sabah; a 2,000 year old practice by the Orang Sungai which is still on-going today. Log burials are unique to Kinabatangan and in this type of burial, the coffin itself is not buried but placed in the cave – on the floor for ordinary people and on a specially erected wooded platform for people of higher status. Shaiful has hands-on experience at Kinabatangan as he is researching this for his PhD.
Saiful related an interesting anecdote on the former Deputy Director of Museums in Malaya, Gale Sieveking. Sieveking took up the post in 1953 and was responsible for the first systematic excavation of Gua Cha in which over 30 human remains were uncovered from both the Hoabinhian and Neolithic levels. He returned to England in 1956 and after his demise in 2007, his family discovered skeletons from Gua Cha under his bed. Jabatan Muzium was notified which repatriated the skeletons to Malaysia. Although an amusing anecdote, it also testifies to the passion archaeologists have for their subjects.
Saiful then turned his focus to Lenggong Valley which obtained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012. He talked about Gua Kajang, a natural limestone tunnel which is large enough to ride a horse through. The site is dated to around 7,000 to 11,000 year ago and some charred bones were found here indicating the presence of fire; although it is uncertain if this was a natural fire or man-made.
Perak Man and Gua Gunung Runtuh, in which this skeleton was found, were given due attention as was Gua Kelawar in which the Perak Woman was found. Another interesting site at Lenggong Valley is Gua Harimau in which 12 prehistoric skeletons were uncovered making it the largest burial site in Lenggong. Perhaps the most exciting site at Lenggong Valley at the moment is Bukit Bunuh, the site of a meteorite impact 1.83 million years ago. The high temperatures and pressure of the meteorite impact transformed rocks at the impact site into suevite and a handaxe made of chert was found buried in the suevite rocks, making this handaxe more than 1.83 million years old and the oldest stone tool to be found outside Africa.
Shaiful Idzwan Shahidan holds a Masters in Field Archaeology and Masters in Applied Ethics (Archaeological Ethics). He is currently a Research Officer and ASTS Fellow at the Centre for Global Archaeological Research, USM. He has over 7 years of experience in archaeology and has conducted archaeological research at a number of locations in Malaysia including at Lenggong Valley (Perak), BujangValley (Kedah) and Kinabatangan Valley (Sabah). He was a member of the expert committee for the preparation of Nomination Dossier for the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. He was also part of the Joint Malaysian and Australian Archaeological Site Survey team for possible World War II burial sites in Parit Sulong, Johor and worked with the Penang Islamic Department on the relocation of ancient graves.
We were indeed honoured to have Shaiful with us.