USM discovers earliest civilisation in Southeast Asia

Researchers in Universiti Sains Malaysia created history when they discovered the site of the earliest civilization in Southeast Asia, dating back to the 2nd century in Sungai Batu near Lembah Bujang, Kedah.

IRON SMELTING… Doctoral candidate, Zolkurnian bin Hassan and Assoc. Prof. Mokhtar explaining the function of the ’twerer’, a tool to pump oxygen in the iron smelting process, to Dato’ Seri Dr. Rais. Looking on are Prof. Tan Sri Dzulkifli (far right) and Prof. Emeritus Dato’ Siti Zuraina (third from right).

This early civilization at Sungai Batu is far older than several other discoveries around Southeast Asia such as the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia that dated back to the 12th century and Borobudur in Indonesia that was built in the 9th century.

Radio Carbon dating and OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) was carried out by several labs, including Beta Analytic Lab in the USA, Oxford University University of Washington and Korea Basic Science Institute in Korea.

Dato’ Seri Utama Dr. Rais Yatim, the Minister of Information, Communication, Arts and Culture while announcing the find said that this discovery gives a new perspective to the history of the country’s civilization. This is because the discovery is proof that Sungai Batu was a trading centre for iron at that time.

“The research led by Assoc. Prof. Mokhtar Saidin, the Director of the USM Centre for Global Archaeological Research also revealed that we have found an iron smelting site. Based on the size and the artifacts found, we believe that long ago, this location was the main site for smelting iron for export purposes. This proves that Malaysia has a heritage and a history we ought to be proud of. The Ministry is planning to submit a report on the findings to the Cabinet so that appropriate action can be taken to protect this heritage source,” he said when speaking to reporters after visiting the Sungai Batu archaeological site today.

He added that the ministry is planning to gazette the site as the Lembah Bujang Heritage Park so that this almost 3sq. kilometer area will be better managed.

“We will also be setting up a committee to look into the physical requirements including land acquisition and conservation of the artifacts,” he said.

The USM team of researchers who began excavations in early February 2009 also discovered a ‘ritual’ site that dates back to 110 AD and is believed to the centre of the Sungai Batu civilization.

Apart from this, stones with writings in Sanscrit Pallava that point to belief in Buddhism and animism as well as other artifacts such as knives and beads were also discovered at the site.

Meanwhile, according to Assoc. Prof. Mokhtar Saidin, 10 out of the 97 sites identified have been excavated and they expect to make many more discoveries especially those related to the socials structure of that civilization.

The research was carried out with a grant of RM 2.3 million by the Ministry to finance the entire operation, including the excavation, preparation of information, GIS and geophysical data, and the creative arts of Lembah Bujang.

Also present were Prof, Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Vice-Chancellor of USM; Puan Sri Datin Masrah Hj. Abidin, the Vice-Chancellor’s wife; and Prof. Emeritus Dato’ Siti Zuraina Abdul Majid, Heritage Commissioner, National Heritage Department.

Published: 10 Mar 2010

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Universiti Sains Malaysia 11800 Minden Penang

++604-6533888 (Main Campus), ++609-7651704/00/11(Health Campus), ++604-5937788 (Engineering Campus)
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