Until 1964, Sarawak Museum was the only museum in Borneo since its establishment in 1891. Due to the absence of professional crew in archaeological study at that time, the first excavation by the museum staff only took place in 1948. The findings were both rewarding and exciting. Ever since, extensive archaeological works have been carried out on more than 50 sites throughout Sarawak. The excavations disclosed the best-kept secret of Sarawak’s past history and the rich and varied heritage of its indigenous people.
Numerous prehistoric artifacts had been discovered. The West Mouth in the Niah Great Cave is the most rewarding site that provides significant and highly important evidences to not only the history of Borneo but also to the history of mankind. At the depth of 96 inches, a skull of one of the oldest humans was excavated, with the surrounding charcoal dated by experts at about 40,000 years old! It is the earliest definite representative of Homo Sapiens found in the Southeast Asia.
Further inside the same cave mouth is a neolithic burial site where over 166 burials had been recovered, associated with stone implements and pottery.
In a separate limestone outcrop nearby the Niah Great Cave, a 200 feet stretch in length wall paintings was discovered. The paintings were generally drawn in bold and thick strokes and depict an array of boats and spread-eagle dancing human figures. Also found in this Painted Cave were “death-ships”, Chinese stoneware and many ancient glass beads. Carbon-14 dating on four “death-ships” gave between 0 and 780 A.D.
Archaeological works in Sarawak continue to the recent years. Every dig and excavation brings them closer to the true history of the past. Another major site that has been explored and excavated is the Sarawak River Delta, which includes Santubong, Gedong and Bukit Sandong.
Santubong is in fact the largest archaeological site in Malaysia, in comparison with Lembah Bujang in the Peninsular Malaysia. Thousands of ceramic sherds were excavated in 1949 under the curatorship of Tom Harrison. Other than Chinese ceramics, about 40,000 tons of iron slags formed another salient discovery. It is believed that this area was once an important centre of traders and iron mining in the region between 11th Century A.D. to 13th Century A.D.
Another interesting discoveriy was made in late 1974, when seventy-nine stone tools in association with metal objects, ancient beads and local earthenware were uncovered on a remote site of Ulu Baleh, Kapit. It is the first open stone age site ever located in Sarawak and Borneo as well.
Major Archaeological Sites In Sarawak
Sungei Ja’ong, Sarawak River Delta Rock carvings (petroglyphs), associated with gold objects and ceramics (T’ang Dynasty).
Bongkissam, Sarawak River Delta
Gold objects and semi-precious stones in raised platform (ancient Buddhist ritual deposit). Other associated finds are ceramics of T’ang and Sung Dynasties.
Bukit Maras near Santubong
Hill top site with ancient Guptama Buddha figure, associated with heads and elephant figures and several pieces of soft pottery probably of local made for domestic or funeral uses but finished and shaped often in distinctly Indian style.
Gua Sireh, Bau District
Cave site associated with burials and wall paintings, Neolithic stone implements, porcelains of 18th – 19th centuries and food remains.
Gua Bungoh, Bau District
Cave site associated with blue and white Chinese ware and local pottery.
Gedong, Simunjan District
Possibly an open burial site. Though no human bone has been recovered, many intact ceramics of T’ang and Sung periods have been recovered between 6" and 24".
Tanjong Sangidam Hilir, 4 miles from Gedong upriver, Serian District
Associated with Sung and blue and white ceramics and local pottery.
Gua Kedadum Cave, Kpg Retoh, Serian District
Associated with Neolithic stone implements.
Gua Langup near Kpg Tai and Kpg Chupak, Serian District
Associated with Neolithic implements.
Ensika, Ulu Sebangan
Open site of Sung ceramics with local pottery.
Bukit Sandong near Balai Ringgin, Serian District
Associated with Sung and blue and white ceramics and local pottery.
Saratok Open site on hill top, associated with T’ang and Sung ceramics (some pieces intact).
Kelaka near Kabong District
Open site associated with Sung, blue and white, Annamese and Sawankhalok wares.
Associated with blue and white as well as Sung ceramics and local pottery.
Open burial site associated with 18th and 19th century ceramics.
Song Secondary jar burial associated with Ming ceramics and glass beads.
West Mouth, Niah
Most important Stone Age site discovered in Borneo. Carbon-14 dating on charcoal at 100" = 39,600 Bp (=1,000 years). Skull at 96" = 39,000 years old. Associated finds are stone implements and food remains. Further inside the same cave mouth is a Neolithic burial site where over 166 burials had been recovered, associated with stone implements and pottery. Two burials carried very early metal association.
Kain Hitam (“The Painted Cave”)
A separate cave high in a limestone island. 200 feet of wall paintings and floor littered with “death ships” with an abundance of bones, beads, porcelain and stoneware sherds, etc. Evidently this was the centre of elaborate prehistoric funerary rites, related to those still extant in the Niah River. C-14 dates on four “death ships” gave between 0 and 780 A.D.
Lobang Angin (“Wind Mouth”)
A shelf of c. 400 square feet high on cliff edge, fully occupied before the late Stone Age and back into the palaeolithic.
Gan Kira (“traders Cave”)
A small rock-shelf near sea level, evidently a neolithic trading camp, which includes an apparent murder incident and scattered sub-surface skeletons (some beheaded). Fully excavated down to limestone bedrock (fossil oyster O.gigas).
Lobang Tulang (“Caves of Bones”)
Cliff grottos full of jar and other secondary burials, mainly of the early birdsnests trade with China period (900 A.D. to 1200 A.D.); bronze and other finds.
Small rock shelter in an isolated corner of the Great Cave formation, which also held “death-ships” remains.
A very high cave up a barely accessible cliff. About 600 square feet, crammed with primary burials of small-bodied adults and urn burials of infants and some women. Very simple material culture, perhaps of a more primitive group (Punans?) integrated economically with the Great Cave people. The deposit had been entirely removed, owing to danger of guano-extraction and difficulty of control.
A late burial cave associated with earthenware, ceramics, glass beads, metal objects and food remains.
Ancient Melanau burials associated with fine pottery and food remains.
Cave at Kakus, Ulu Tatau
Primary and secondary burial caves before the advent of metal, glass and porcelain.
Sorang Caves (Batu Puteh and Lotong Ringen) in low hills near Tatau c.50 miles south of Niah Cave paintings (quite unlike the Painted Cave and Gua Sireh) associated with stone tools (Pre-Neolithic).
Lobang Kudih, Bekong
Burial cave associated with Ming ceramics and beads.
Rock shelter site associated with many Ming type jars with dragon designs on them, and many 18th – 19th century lidded jars, plus beads and one very big Yi Hsing ware jar.
Ulu Limbang River Burial site associated with Annamese bowls and plates and Chinese lidded box.
There are five burial sites around Long Semadoh. Each of them is associated with Ming ceramics as well as some lidded jars of 18th – 19th centuries, and many different types of beads. There are two stone carvings (Batu Narit) which probably go back as far as the 17th – 18th centuries. There are four stone mounds found in Long Semadoh District, one at Long Rapuak and three at Long Lapukan. These stone mounds are believed to be used for burying valuable properties.
Sungei Putai Baleh
Open site where 79 Neolithic adzes have been recovered in association with metal objects and local pottery.
About archeology which is found in Sarawak and displayed in this museum.