Pre-Historic Skeletons in Lenggong Valley

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.

006Shaiful 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.

Karen presenting Saiful with a token of appreciation with Mariana looking on.
Karen presenting Saiful with a token of appreciation with Mariana looking on.

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.

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Archaeology in Malaysia – MV Training Tues 02 Oct

By Soumya Kalyani (Batch 16)

One of the speakers on Tuesday 02 Oct was En. Ahmad Hakimi Khairuddin who is with the Department of Malay Socio-Culture / Fine Arts, Academy of Malay Studies, University of Malaya.  En. Hakimi defined the meaning of archaeology and took us through the early phases of man, the Stone Age (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic) and the Metal Age (Copper, Bronze and Iron).  Although archaeology can mean different things to different people depending on their perspective be it a historical perspective, art history, antiquarian or anthropology, it is essentially a reconstruction of the past, to understand a way of life, to then preserve this knowledge for future generations being mindful not to do so for personal gain or for sensationalism.

Neolithic artefacts discovered at an open site at Jenderam Hilir, Selangor (photo taken from the Encyclopedia of Malaysia – Early History, pp20)

Archeology provides through the study of the material remains, how man made sense of his environment and by providing a context through the material evidence, the study of archaeology can be streamlined by providing both the sequence of events and through stratigraphy, documenting as well as dating the sequence, thus providing a detailed analysis.

In Malaysian Archeology the three main time differences are Prehistory – a time period before the existence of written documents, roughly 2.5 million years ago until 1 B.C.E, history a time period with clear documentation, roughly 1,000 C.E until yesterday and Proto-History, a time period between Prehistory and History (i.e 1 C.E until 1,000 C.E), where history of the area can be reconstructed from external writings (mostly Indian, Arabian, Greek and Chinese) but local records do not exist.

En. Ahmad Hakimi then took us through the tools that were created during these early ages and the many sites in Malaysia where such evidence can still be found.

Batch 16 trainees

MV Training – 29 Sept 2012 (Batch 17)

Two interesting presentations had been planned as part of the MV training on 29 Sept and the trainees arrived bright and early.

First off was Karen Loh with an interesting talk titled Mysteries of Malaysian Shipwrecks.  Karen is the President of Museum Volunteers as well as the Director of Nanhai Marine Archaeology, which has salvaged 10 shipwrecks off the coast of Malaysia in collaboration with the Department of Museums and Antiquities.

Karen, presenting Mysteries of Malaysian Shipwrecks

She discussed some of the shipwrecks found around Malaysian waters as well as the reasons behind the many shipwrecks found in the region.  Most of the sunken ships excavated had been carrying ceramics from China, Thailand and Vietnam and Karen discussed the importance of these ceramics as time markers.  The designs and styles of the ceramics change over time and hence can be used to ascertain the time-period of an archaeological dig.  Karen also discussed the consequences of the Ming ban which saw a decrease in the supply of chinese goods.

Encik Ahmad Hakimi bin Khairuddin then discussed Archaeology in Malaysia.  Encik Hakimi is a lecturer with Universiti Malaya (Department of Malay Culture) with a keen interest in cultural anthropology as well as archaeology.  Encik Hakimi has a Masters of Arts in Anthropology from the Wichita State University and is currently pursuing his PhD.

En Hakimi with his riveting talk on archaeology in Malaysia

En. Hakimi started off by explaining the difference between prehistory, protohistory and history. He then briefed the trainees on the stone and metal ages in Malaysia touching on possible homo erectus sites in Malaysia, the Gua Cha burial site and Kuala Selinsing, the earliest proto-historic site in the peninsula.  He rounded off with a discussion on Lembah Bujang, the earliest Malay Kingdom in the peninsula.  Throughout the presentation, En Hakimi stressed the importance of looking at a broader context to explain an archaeological find as well as the importance of not jumping to conclusions but taking the time to understand all the variables associated with a find.  En. Hakimi left the audience with some thought provoking questions.

The trainees were engaged throughout both presentations and had lots of questions for both presenters.  Next Saturday 6 October, the trainees can expect two more interesting talks – a presentation on Gallery A of Muzium Negara by Lawrence Maille, vice president of MV and a talk on presentation skills by Stuart Wakefield, secretary of MV.