Ancient skeletons set to come home

Ancient treasures: Dr Mokhtar, in this file photo, studying the bones and artefacts that date back to over 5,000 years at Kampung Guar Kepah.

GEORGE TOWN: Between 1851 and 1934, British archaeologists unearthed 41 skeletons in Guar Kepah on mainland Penang.

They are said to be between 5,000 and 6,000 years old, and represent an ancient era from before any of Malaysia’s Sultanates were founded.

The skeletons were sent to Europe to be studied as there were no experts in Malaysia, but our archaeologists are now capable of learning from the skeletons, so Penang wants them back.

A delegation has gone to the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands, where the skeletons are kept, to discuss bringing them back.

The delegation, led by Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy, is part of Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow’s pledge to return the skeletons to Penang.

“The Chief Minister wants the skeletons to be brought home and placed at Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery in Kepala Batas,” Ramasamy said in a statement.

He said the gallery was still under construction and was expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2024 at a cost of RM10mil. The skeletons will then be brought back and placed in the gallery.

During the visit, the delegation paid a courtesy call on Dutch minister of education, culture and science, Robbert Dijkgraaf.

Dr Mokthar inspecting a skeleton specimen at the museum in Leiden, during the delegation visit.Dr Mokthar inspecting a skeleton specimen at the museum in Leiden, during the delegation visit.

Ramasamy said the meeting’s objective was to determine the status of the 41 skeletons at the museum.

He said a special ceremony was held to open the boxes containing the skeletons, which were still in good condition.

He further said the skeletal remains served as a major source of information on the early people of the land, providing solid evidence and particulars of the prehistory of the population.

“In the study of osteo-archaeology, the discovery of many skeletons together provides an opportunity to do wholesome research on ancient communities. Studying bones can give us information about diseases that affected people in the past.

“For example, if we find certain signs on everyone’s bones in a group, it can mean they all had the same disease. This helps us understand how diseases spread in the past,” he added.

Ramasamy thanked the Netherlands government for giving Penang the opportunity to conserve and preserve its heritage for future generations.

Guar Kepah is the first archaeological site recorded in Malaysia and it is estimated to be between 5,000 and 6,000 years old.

The archaeological site is also the place where the “Penang Woman” skeleton was discovered in April 2017.

Present during the visit were renowned archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin, Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands Datuk Nadzirah Osman, Penang tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin, Chief Minister Inc deputy general manager Datin Bharathi Suppiah, and state communications division director and the chief minister’s press secretary Yap Lee Ying.

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