UKM team finds human remains in Nenggiri Valley dating back 14,000 years

Photo: Bernama

GUA MUSANG: During the excavation at Gua Keledung Kecil in the Kelantan’s Nenggiri Valley, a human skeleton was found in a foetal position along with several artefacts.

This shows that the Nenggiri area had been inhabited 14,000 years ago, making the site older than where the Perak Man was found.

Perak Man - the oldest skeletal remains found before this - was believed to have lived between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago in the Lenggong Valley in Perak’s Hulu Perak district in 1991.

The Nenggiri archaeological excavation works were undertaken by a team of researchers from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) led by Assoc Prof Dr Zuliskandar Ramli in preparation for the Nenggiri hydroelectric dam project in the Nenggeri Valley since last September.

These excavation works were undertaken to salvage part of Nenggiri Valley, which is rich in archaeological treasures, before being fully submerged when the Nenggiri hydroelectric power plant goes on stream by mid-2027.

A total of 14 caves are involved in the excavation works.

The excavation project was among the initiatives undertaken by Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) jointly with a 30-member team from UKM comprising archaeologists, assistant researchers, students, as well as the village community, said Zuliskandar, who is also senior fellow of UKM’s Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation

Deep history: Zuliskandar (right) explaining aspects of the recent archaeological discovery by the UKM team of prehistoric settlers at Gua Keledung Kecil in Kelantan’s Nenggiri Valley. — BernamaDeep history: Zuliskandar (right) explaining aspects of the recent archaeological discovery by the UKM team of prehistoric settlers at Gua Keledung Kecil in Kelantan’s Nenggiri Valley. — Bernama

“We have since found thousands of artefacts and ecofacts (objects of natural origin) around Nenggiri Valley such as ancient pottery fragments, stone tools like hammer stones, grindstone tools, pounding tools and chipped stone tools as well as food waste such as snail shells and animal bones,” he told Bernama.

Zuliskandar said the finds uncovered in Gua Keledung Kecil showed that the community had inhabited the cave since the pre-Neolithic era some 14,000 years ago, into the Neolithic and metal ages, and after the prehistoric era.

Sharing insights into his excavation exposure at the valley, Zuliskandar said the prehistoric human skeleton in Gua Keledung Kecil was only discovered after the team decided to open a new excavation site at Gua Keledung Kecil after completing rescue excavation works at Gua Keledung Besar.

“In actual fact, we only focused on Gua Keledung Besar as small caves (Gua Keledung Kecil) were rarely used for prehistoric burial sites.

“Given that this is a small cave, I didn’t expect to see a human skeleton. We were truly excited as finally we managed to find the only complete human skeleton and this is the first prehistoric artefact on a hilly terrain,” he said.

The human skull discovery at Pos Pulat was the team’s first, and it spurred the team to forge ahead by opening another excavation site next to the site where the skull was found.

The skull finds in the early stage led the team to another discovery that is of a complete human skeleton, which was found in a curled-up foetal position.

Interestingly, new facts related to burial practices and the socio-cultural evolution of prehistoric life, especially in Lembah Nenggiri, were also discovered.

Among others, stone tools were found around the skeleton.

They included grinding stones, a pounding tool, a hand-held axe, a chipping tool made from slate, and quartz crystal often used in prehistoric burial rituals.

The researchers also found that the way the skeleton was buried was in line with the practice of the earliest prehistoric people, who had inhabited the Valley 14,000 years ago.

In 2018, a prehistoric human skeleton estimated to be 6,000 to 8,000 years old, was discovered by a group of researchers in Gua Chawan.

All these are important archaeological heritage finds as the excavation team will be able to trace the culture of the primitive community and prehistoric human presence.

The river basin at the Nenggiri Valley was once inhabited by the prehistoric community. Besides providing early settlers with a source of food, rivers were their main means of transport across locations.

The researcher faced harassment by illegal settlers who are harvesting bats’ faeces but felt the artefacts that they extract would allow them to identify the huge archaeological potential at a certain area before excavation in the valley.

Excavation works are being done to save this national heritage before part of the Nenggiri Valley becomes submerged by the middle of 2027 for TNB’s RM5bil 300MW hydroelectric power project that will boost the supply of renewable energy in Peninsular Malaysia.

A mini gallery will also be set up near the Nenggiri Dam to house all the finds, including the skeleton and ancient tools from Nenggiri Valley.

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