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Wuut? KEDAH has the OLDEST civilisation in South-East Asia!?

Malaysian archaeologists have found shipwrecks in Kedah that could CHANGE South-East Asian history!

Site where the ships were discovered Lembah Bujang Image from The Star

Where are they?? Cannot see pulak? Sorry, this is the best picture available for now. Image from The Star

Actually the ships are still buried under mud, at what was once an ancient river that flowed through Lembah Bujang in Kedah, coz it would be very expensive to extract them, so yeah, have to rely on our imaginations lor. At least we have a short description from Datuk Mohd Rawi Abdul Hamid, the Religious, Siamese Community Affairs, Tourism and Heritage, Public Works Committee Chairman:

“The archaeologists stumbled on between 5 and 7 ancient ships or barges. The masts (of the ships) were still visible. The ancient ships or barges measure 40-50 feet in length.” – Datuk Mohd Rawi, The Star

So how does this “change” history? Using seriously atas technology, archaeologists discovered the relics to be… over 1,900 years old (110AD)! And the ruins of the town to be about 2,500 years old! Heyyy if it’s that old then…

 

ZOMG it’s older than Angkor Wat

angkor wat full of tourists. Image from brianstupar.org.

Y’know, one of the most popular tourists spots in Asia. The one that EVERYONE’S been to. Image from brianstupar.org

Angkor Wat in Cambodia was built in the 12th century by the Khmer civilisation that existed since the 6th century. Pretty old eh? But if ours goes back to 110AD, then we beat Angkor’s butt. Come to think of it, we beat Borobudur in Indonesia too, which dates back to the 8th century.

Using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) Malaysian archaeologists were able to determine how old these relics are. OSL is a method to date minerals, for example, the object’s last exposure to sunlight.

Heck, this discovery more than changes Malaysia’s history a teeny bit – it completely REWRITES history in the whole big fat South-East Asian region, coz now the world will know the OLDEST civilisation lived in this country yo! As for the oldest civilisation in the whole of Asia, we’re not lah. The Indus Valley civilisation in India existed since 7,500BC. Most historians agree that a civilisation means

kedah vs angkor wat vs borobudur

Just a lil’ pic for comparison

So we dug into (pun not intended) the history of this civilisation to understand a day in the life of these ancient “Malaysians”… did they have language, or made grunting sounds to communicate? Did they ride horses or Malayan tigers to get around? Etc.

 

Kedah had a legit kingdom of its own called…. KEDAH TUA!

Artist impression trade activities in Lembah Bujang. Image from The Star

Artist impression trade activities in Lembah Bujang. Image from The Star

Some people have devoted their whole lives to studying Lembah Bujang, one of them is Datuk V. Nadarajan, Chairman of the Bujang Valley Study Circle NGO. He’s even written a book on it.

ORIGINS: 

The name of this civilisation is Kedah Tua. It goes by a few other names as well, such as Queda (not to be confused with Al-Qaeda), Kataha or KadaramKalah (ancient Persian), and Cheh-Cha (ancient Chinese).

“The kingdom that flourished within the valley was known in its time as ‘Kadaram’, Sanskrit for iron.” – Datuk Nadarajan, The Star

So how did it all begin? Approximately 3,500 years ago, Austronesian people began migrating to the Malay ArchipelagoTrade between western Indonesia and the Tamil Nadu region of Southern India helped spread Indian culture and religion to the Malays, leading to the Indianised kingdoms of Kedah Tua, LangkasukaFunan, and Champa.

In our search on Kedah Tua, we did come across this sketch on Wikipedia. Maybe if the archaeologists are able to fully extract the recent shipwrecks they found, it might look something like:

An artist impression of early Seafarers in the Malay Archipelago.

An artist impression of early Seafarers in the Malay Archipelago. Image from Wikipedia

LOCATION:

It’s here in Lembah Bujang that tons of ancient stuff have been unearthed by archaeologists. Located near Merbok, Kedah, the whole 224 kmwide historical complex is currently the richest archaeological site in Malaysia.

Map of Lembah Bujang. Image from The Malay Mail Online

Click to view larger. Image from The Malay Mail Online

WHAT THEY FOUND:

Archaeologists dug up stone caskets, tablets, metal tools, ornaments, ceramics, pottery, and Hindu icons. There is an important and unmistakably Hindu-Buddhist settlement there. They also found jetty remains, iron smelting sites, and a clay brick monument dating back to 110AD, making it the OLDEST man-made structure in SEA. Research finds that the ancients from the 8th – 9th century were ironmasons. Which would make sense why they’re called ‘Kadaram’. Pretty impressive huh!

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But more significantly, they found more than 50 tomb temples called ‘candi’. The most impressive and well-preserved one is located in Pengkalan Bujang, Merbok:

Candi Pengkalan Dalam, Image from penangheritagecity.com.

Click for pictures of other candis. Image from penangheritagecity.com

TIMELINE:

So how long did this ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdom last? Here’s a very brief timeline with info from The Star:

Lembah Bujang civilisation kingdom timeline

Click to read The Star’s article

Ehh, then what happened to Lembah Bujang AFTER the 17th century? We’ll get to that next, but first, a question – we don’t know if any of this has been ringing a bell with ugaiz but… remember we used to study this in school?

 

Yep, we did. This isn’t exactly something NEW

#wthCILISOS

liam neeson find bury you next generation excavate

Ok ok true, the discovery of Kedah Tua isn’t new, although the discovery of the SHIPWRECKS is. The thing is, people have been studying Lembah Bujang almost right after the civilisation ended. Since the 1840s, discoveries were first reported by Colonel James Low. Later, deeper research was done by Dr. HG Quaritch Wales and his wife Dorothy in 1938-39. They found 30 temple sites.

Up to the 1970s Westerners studied the site, when finally local archaeologists were trained to continue the expedition and took over. Today, public universities along with the Department of Museums and Antiquity have taken on the dig. These guys are trained to study different aspects of archaeology: inscriptions, historical handwriting, architecture, metals, and even dust!

excavation at lembah bujang. Image from arkeologis.wordpress.com

Work in progress. Image from arkeologis.wordpress.com

Incredible how generations of people have been collectively working on this for nearly 200 YEARS and yet we’re still unearthing new things.

Sure, they’ve been countless articles on Lembah Bujang… and sure, many Malaysians would probably know a lot about it before reading this article. (TBH, when we started, we were totally lost – like this civilisation!) But why isn’t this site as popular as it should be? Mention Angkor Wat or Borobudur, people know them. Mention Lembah Bujang… *crickets chirp*

Why isn’t Lembah Bujang a happening tourist spot yet???

Malaysia’s famous for Petronas Twin Towers, food, shopping, beaches, rainforests, and historical towns in tourism. We never hear of ancient civilisation being “our thing”. But why not, right? Lembah Bujang is so rich in culture and already we have the sell as the oldest civilisation in SEA.

According to the Department of Museums, 60,000 people have visited the museum since the past 3 years. Compared to Angkor Wat and Borobudur that are visited by MILLIONS of tourists every year – while all along ours was ancient-er than them. Wasted la! Maybe we’re just not marketing it enough?

Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum. Image from jmm.gov.my.

Eh, we have a museum for it! Image from jmm.gov.my

But there’s the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum, which currently is the only museum in Malaysia exhibiting archaeological collections from this ancient kingdom. Entrance is free and they even provide guided tours for large groups. We looked for reviews of what people think of the museum:

Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum review. Image from TripAdvisor

Reviews on TripAdvisor

On TripAdvisor, there were only 9 reviews (3 were from foreign tourists). But actually, they were very good! So we already have the civilisation and we also have the facility, we should really be milking this.

Another thing we should address is to have respect for our own history. Why do we say this? Because in 2013, housing developers in Kedah demolished Candi 11, one of 17 registered candis in the area and one of the most ancient. Ouch! It made some people furious:

“What they did to Candi 11 is akin to murder.” – Datuk Nadarajan, The Star

candi 11 before after demolished. Image from Says.com.

Candi 11 demolished. Image from Says.com

Thankfully (sorta), those developers agreed to rebuild it. Datuk Nadarajan says the only way forward is to really cordon off the area and classify them as protected Unesco sites. “All these sites must be gazetted by the National Heritage Department with the help of the Kedah state government,” he said. It’s easier said than done. While the Tourism and Culture Ministry agreed to consider gazetting Lembah Bujang, the Kedah government doesn’t have the funds to gazette them by the thousands.

Well, perhaps the Kedah government, developers and land owners can compromise on some things. Maybe you can pressure them a bit and WRITE TO THEM SAYING DON’T SIMPLY TEAR DOWN ANGKOR WAT!

Because if Cambodia has shown us one thing, it’s that rich history can have more than just one meaning.

 

 

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