Washington, September 19 : Archaeologists have discovered eight human skeletal remains, believed to be from the Neolithic period between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, at an ancient burial site at Gua Kain Hitam near the Niah Caves in Sarawak.
The research team, comprising members from Universiti Sains Malaysia's Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia, headed by Professor Madya, Dr Stephen Chia, and the Sarawak Museum Department, headed by its deputy director Ipoi Datan, uncovered the remains.
They were buried together with artefacts such as pottery, beaded ornaments and food remains such as shells and animal bones.
According to the centre's director Professor Madya Mokhtar Saidin, the discovery in the Niah-Subis limestone hill was considered to be of great significance as the excavated remains were almost complete.
"Of the eight, only six, which were the remains of five men and a woman, were brought back in June to the centre for analysis," he said.
"The female is believed to be aged between 35 and 45 while the men were probably aged between 25 and 45. They measure between 156cm and 160cm," he added.
Mokhtar said that the discovery was a result of a two-year research work, which began last year funded by the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry and the USM Research University grant.
Dr Chia said that the find was considered to be one of the major archaeological discoveries at the Niah Caves in Sarawak in the past 50 years since the then Sarawak Museum curator Tom Harrison and his team unearthed a modern human (homo sapiens) skull at the West Mouth of the Niah Great Cave, which was estimated to be 40,000 years old.
"The study on the remains of the eight would provide us the information on the type of their lifestyle, their period of settlement and their origins. Some of the remains were found with stains of red ochre which could symbolise some ritual during burial," he said, adding that excavation works at the burial site were on going.
He also said that the new finding would not only enrich knowledge of the early history of Malaysia and Southeast Asia, but also attract more local and foreign tourists to the site.
Ipoi said that the skeletal remains shared the same characteristics with the Austro Melanosoid people who used to roam around Sumatera and Papua.
The centre was also carrying out analysis on three skeletal remains which were found submerged in water at a mangrove swamp at Pulau Kalumpang, near Taiping, Perak, last month.
The remains, believed to be males between the ages 25 and 35, were about 1,000 and 3,000 years old.
"Since the remains were submerged in salt water, the centre is currently carrying out the desalination process to remove salt from the remains for proper analysis," said Ipoi.