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Article Released Thu-18th-September-2008 09:04 GMT
Contact: Mohamad Abdullah Institution: Universiti Sains Malaysia
 Latest findings from Prehistoric Cemetery in Borneo (Sarawak)

In a press conference held today, Universiti Sains Malaysia archaeologists announced their latest finding from the prehistoric cemetery recently discovered in Sarawak, Malaysia. The remains prove the existence of humans in the area between 2000-3000 years ago - pictures attached.

Press Release
For Immediate Release

Latest findings from Prehistoric Cemetery Borneo (Sarawak)

In a press conference held today, Universiti Sains Malaysia archaeologists announced their latest finding from the prehistoric cemetery recently discovered in Sarawak, Malaysia.

The research team from the Centre For Archaeological Research Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang and the Sarawak Museum Department headed by Associate Professor Stephen Chia and Mr. Ipoi Datan discovered the ancient burial site at Gua Kain Hitam in the Niah-Subis limestone hills in Batu Niah, Miri, Sarawak. This is the area where the oldest human remains in Southeast Asia were found, thus confirming that Borneo was settled much earlier than originally thought.

The research and excavations at this site, funded by Jabatan Warisan Negara in 2007 and the USM Research University Grant in 2008, has so far uncovered more than 8 human skeletons, believed to be from the Neolithic period, dating back 2,000-3,000 years ago. This proves the existence of humans in the area from the Neolithic period and may have some relation to the oldest remains found in another nearby cave (Gua Niah), which is 40 000 years old. The latter was found in the 1950s and confirmed that Borneo was settled earlier than thought (see background text below).

Latest results reveal that the skeletons were found in extended positions together with pottery sherds, shells and animal bones. Preliminary analysis of the skeletons revealed that there are five males and one female, with generally very short stature of heights of between 156cm and 160cm. The age of the four males is estimated to be between 25-45 years old and the female between 35-45 years old.

Research on this ancient cemetery site is still on going and the excavated artifacts such as pottery, ornaments and food remains like shells and animal bones are being analysed at Universiti Sains Malaysia. Research collaboration with a palaeanthropologist from Sapporo Medical University, Hokkaido, Japan is also currently underway in order to extract more information about the burials and the ancient people who lived in the Niah-Subis region 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.

This new finding will not only enrich knowledge on the early history of Malaysia and Southeast Asia but it is also expected to attract more local and foreign tourists to visit this new site, which is located in the Niah National Park in Miri, Sarawak.

For more information, please contact

Associate Prof Stephen Chia
Centre For Archaeological Research Malaysia
USM, Penang
Tel: 04-6533888 x4118

Some background about the site adapted from the website of Sarawak Forestry.

"The oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were found at Niah, making the park one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Forty thousand years ago, the Niah Great Cave sheltered modern humans and have continued to do so over the years. This discovery in 1958 by the curator of the Sarawak Museum, confirmed that Borneo was settled much earlier than originally thought. Tools and other items found suggest a long period of settlement reaching back to the palaeolithic etc (the earliest part of the stone-age). The continued human presence over the thousands of years and its sophistication is one of the most interesting element about Niah. The ancient burials give an indication of the societies and how they lived, with later graves containing pottery, textiles and ornaments and even glass and metal items, which came comparatively late to Borneo.

Niah is also famous for the painted Cave which has detailed wall-paintings depicting the boat journey of the dead into the afterlife. The meaning of the paintings was explained by the discovery of a number of "deadth-ships" on the cave floor-boat shaped coffins containing the remains of the deceased and a selection of grave-goods considered useful in the afterlife, such as Chinese ceramics, ornaments and glass beads. The death-ships have been dated as ranging between 1 AD and 780 AD, although local Penan folklore tells of the use of dead-ship burials as late as the 19th century.

Low resolution pictures are attached. For high resolution pictures, please email


Associated links

Associated files available for download

Download IconView/download the file 'Sarawak Cemetary - low res.ppt.

Funding information

Jabatan Warisan Negara and USM Research University Grant

Keywords associated to this article: Southeast Asia, human settlement, archaeology
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