Reliving ancient times

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 02 Dec 2015

Burning discovery: Dr Mokhtar exchanging views with Prof Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej from Thailand on the ancient furnaces found at the Sungai Batu site in Semeling, Kedah. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

SUNGAI PETANI: The Sungai Batu archaeology site, believed to be the oldest settlement in South-East Asia, should be turned into a living cultural gallery.

Director of USM’s Centre for Global Archaeological Research Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin said the site, some 20km from here, could be modelled after the Iron Museum in Seoul, South Korea.

He said the discovery of an ancient iron smelting foundry was proof there was internatio-nal demand, adding that around the jetty ruins were mounds of rubble containing iron slag and ingots.

“A living cultural gallery at the site will ‘revive’ the ancient civilisation in Merbok dating back 535 BC and it will certainly help to boost tourism here.

“The people will understand what the town, which dated back some 2,500 years and thrived for centuries, is all about.

“It is a proposal to both the state and federal governments to turn this place into a gallery,” he said during the 1st IMT-GT (Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Trian-gle) Archaeology Workshop at the site yesterday.

Prof Mokhtar said the discovery was a boon to archaeo-tourism in the state as travellers might want to visit the site which is “between” Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Indonesia.

He said similarly, those who visit the heritage enclave in George Town might want to explore this site and Guar Kepah, said to be Penang’s only prehistoric site in Seberang Prai.

Guar Kepah contains ancient shell middens or mounds sitting on sandy ridges.

“Besides the ancient shipwrecks, a port with 10 jetties, a ritual site for worship and administration structures near the jetties, we also found something special and unique.

“Here, there used to be an iron smelting industry. We found iron ore, furnace, tuyere, iron slag and ingots in more than 10 sites, from 535 BC until 17th Century AD.

“The ingots were exported to India, the Middle East, Europe, Korea and Japan. According to Sanskrit language, this region is known as ‘the iron bowl’.

“The tourism package is already there for all to tap into. What we have here is more orderly than Borobudur and Angkor Wat,” he said.

Prof Mokhtar said some of his PhD students had been sent out to countries in Middle East and Europe to check out the swords used in that period of time.

“We want to know whether the iron really came from here. We can trace the minor elements of each iron and do a test on that.”

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