KUALA LUMPUR- A Simple rectangular stone base was all that remained of the archaeological site known as Temple No. 11, but it was older even than Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Borobudur in Indonesia.
That is, until a property developer came in last month and bulldozed the eighth-century ruins.
The demolition in Bujang Valley, Kedah, has set off a fierce debate on the value of historical sites in Malaysia - and of history itself - versus development.
Conservationists are up in arms, demanding better protection of heritage sites. The Kedah government in turn says it does not have the money to gazette all the historical sites in the state, while the developer says it did not know that what it tore down was of historical significance.
"These heritage sites commemorate certain episodes of human history," said Professor Mohd Mokhtar Saidin, a historian at the Universiti Sains Malaysia who has led a team of researchers and historians in excavating 46 sites in Bujang Valley.
"Once destroyed, the future interpretation of human history, too, is affected and the the value of the nation's past depreciates," he told The Straits Times.
Kedah, renowned for its vast rice fields that turn golden during the harvest, has almost a hundred ancient Hindu-Buddhist temple ruins - mostly with just the structural base remaining - scattered in a 224km-wide area in the south-west part of the state. They are among the oldest in South-east Asia.
In this case, the temples were built by an ancient Malay civilisation that pre-dates Islam in this country. Another 120 sites in the area have relics of the civilisation including pottery, metal tools and caskets.
The Bujang Valley is the country's richest archaeological site, with ongoing excavation and research activities to unearth temples ruins.