No to heritage listing on Hindu-Buddhist temple ruins


Kedah’s heritage: (From left) Dr Mokhtar and National Heritage commissioner Dr Zainah Ibrahim giving a souvenir to Tourism Ministry deputy secretary-general Dr Junaida Lee Abdullah at the Kedah Tua International Conference. With them is Kedah exco member Datuk Mohd Rawi Abdul Hamid.

Kedah’s heritage: (From left) Dr Mokhtar and National Heritage commissioner Dr Zainah Ibrahim giving a souvenir to Tourism Ministry deputy secretary-general Dr Junaida Lee Abdullah at the Kedah Tua International Conference. With them is Kedah exco member Datuk Mohd Rawi Abdul Hamid.

SUNGAI PETANI: The Hindu-Buddhist temple ruins of Bujang Valley will not be nominated as a Unesco heritage site because of the lack of chronometric evidence.

Archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin said research on the temples or candi since the colonial days had been based only on artefact and architectural comparisons which lacked scientific integrity.

“The candi remnants will instead be under a secondary buffer zone around the ancient iron smelting and trade complex in the Sungai Batu Archaeology Site.

“Where is the association? Where is the interpretation? It will be hard (to include the temples) without scientific measures,” he said.

It was announced on Saturday that Sungai Batu’s ancient civilisation of iron smelters and exporters that thrived between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago will be nominated for Unesco heritage listing.

Dr Mokhtar, who is Universiti Sains Malaysia Centre for Global Archaeological Research director, said there had been little local effort to conserve the temple ruins.

“One candi was bulldozed by a developer in 2013 and for decades, villagers in need of building materials had taken away rocks.

“Some of the candi were also reconstructed from the rubble four or five decades ago and are not original monuments,” he said at the closing of the two-day Old Kedah International Conference yesterday.

About 30 researchers from 16 countries gathered to put the ‘iron town’ under an academic microscope as the oldest civilisation in South-east Asia.

Dr Mokhtar said six lab tests on charcoal and brick samples from rubble that were iron smelting workshops and jetties were found to be from 535BC and 487BC respectively.

This evidence puts Sungai Batu’s archaeological value at about 1,200 and 1,600 years older than Borobudur (8AD) and Angkor Wat (12AD) respectively.

Conference speaker Datuk V. Nadarajan, however, urged the Government to include the candi remains in the Merbok Museum area, Pengkalan Bujang and Sungai Mas in the nomination to Unesco.

“In 1987, a Unesco team from Paris visited Lembah Bujang and recommended that the whole area be protected,” said Nadarajan, who authored the book ‘Bujang Valley – The Wonder that was Ancient Kedah’.

The gathering of global experts also provided a wealth of critical academic opinion on Sungai Batu.

Prof Emeritus Nitta Eiji from Kagoshima University in Japan did not agree that the iron smelting complex had started 500 years before the spread of Christianity.

“It is definitely older than Angkor Wat but I have never encountered bricks in this region made before the Christ era.”

Prof Dr Thuy Chanthourn from the Royal Academy of Cambodia pointed out that carbon dating was not accurate in tropical countries because carbon remains of ancient tree roots could contaminate samples.

Prof Dr Nasim Khan from Peshawar University, Pakistan, said the ancient ritual site in Sungai Batu needed further excavations.

“The circular brick base of the ritual site was built in 110AD and the square Hindu-Buddhist stupa remains on top of it dates to about 500AD.

“It is necessary to deconstruct the stupa platform and dig the soil beneath it to find more clues to the civilisation.”

Northern Region , candi , sungai petani