Stone Age remains buried in seashells the first to be found in Malaysia

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

KEPALA BATAS - She came from a civilisation that obviously ate a great deal of molluscs and her people must have loved them.

They accumulated millions of seashells from their diet and buried their dead in them.

This discovery in Guar Kepah may lead to a change in our history of the land as other instances of ancient humans burying their dead in seashells are only found in far-off places like Senegal, Africa.

This is the first time in Malaysia that a Stone Age human was confirmed to be buried in seashells, said Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin.

He told reporters yesterday that the ancient remains found in Guar Kepah near here were probably a fe­male, based on the skeleton's teeth.

Last Thursday, a backhoe digging into the earth to start construction on the Guar Kepah Archaeo­­logical Gallery unearthed and broke the lower half of the skeleton. Construction work has since stopped.

"We know she lived 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. We will soon narrow it down to the precise century after carbon dating the samples," he said.

He said the burial site was likely also a shell midden and the mounds of shells grew to about 5m high.

"Her body was buried lying down sideways on a bed of seashells mixed with some soil and covered by a large mound of more seashells," Dr Mokhtar said.

Three earthen pots were found beside her, but their contents - believed to be what this ancient race thought she would need in the afterlife - are long gone.

He said the skeleton was well-preserved because a kampung house was built on top of it, keeping out heat and moisture.

"We will take the skeleton to USM to confirm the gender, age, illness, cause of death and genetic roots.

"After our analysis, we hope to complete construction of the gallery and put the skeleton and artefacts we found on display.

"We will also try to reconstruct their way of life," said Dr Mokhtar.

Their main diet, he said, was ob­­viously seafood, while skeletal re­­mains of deer and wild boar that were also found showed they hunted too.

Dr Mokhtar also said in 1860, early British researchers excavated nine human skeletons from this site and they were taken to Holland.

Public Works Department engineer Shahfizan Md Nor said building plans of the gallery must be changed.

"It was initially an open space concept. But now we need a properly air-conditioned building to preserve the remains."