Carbon dating finds 'Penang Woman' to be 5,710 years old

GEORGE TOWN: Radiocarbon dating done in the United States showed that the remains of the “Penang woman” discovered in Guar Kepah last month is approximately 5,710 years old.

According to Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Global Archaeological Research, the dating process that took place last week has a margin of error of plus or minus 30 years.

“One of the details that needed confirmation was the sex, despite initial observations suggesting the body was probably a female.

“We also need to determine her height, cause of death, and at what age she died.

“We sent samples to a geo-genetic laboratory in Denmark for DNA testing last week, with the result expected to be out in six months,” he said yesterday.

The “Penang Woman” was discovered when the area was dug up to lay the foundations for the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery at a spot near the Penang-Kedah border, about 28km from Butterworth.

Prof Mokhtar added that his team made another great discovery when they found the base of a shell midden last week, near the spot where they found the “Penang Woman”.

Middens are essentially prehistoric refuse pits that usually contain waste products after a meal is finished, such as bones and shells.

“We thought the whole midden had been removed by the British archaeologists. This is a pleasant surprise to us all.

“The base of the midden was discovered some 30cm deeper from the remains, which were found at 70cm below ground.

“We are still exposing the base of the midden, which is about a metre thick. So far, we have exposed an area with a diameter of 2.5m,” he said, adding that different types of shells and pottery were found inside the base.

“With the discovery of the skeleton, there is a need to have a covered and air-conditioned archaeological gallery to preserve the skeleton. (With this), the cost of building a world-class gallery can escalate to about RM3mil,” said Prof Mokhtar, who added the matter will be raised with the state government at a technical meeting in two weeks.

Penang has granted possession of the 0.96ha archaeological site to Chief Minister Incorporated, and allocated RM830,000 for archaeological gallery, which would showcase human settlements in Penang during the Stone Age.