Culture History Lifestyle

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!

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.

 

 

NAH, BACA:
Surprising downsides if Batu Caves gets the UNESCO World Heritage status

20 Comments

  1. burungmarah

    15/09/2015 at 1:29 am

    Soon enough we’ll rewrite our history books to shed more light on Kedah at the expense of Malacca the much-heralded “negeri bersejarah”.

  2. Muhammad Fareez Yusran

    14/09/2015 at 12:43 pm

    This issue about Tamadun Sungai Batu is so crucial. Luckily, there are suggestions from our people to the government in the new Bajet 2016 to provide funds to pick out and preserve the ships and the archeological complex. It’s a waste lah if people do not know about this site. 🙁

    I had watched a documentary about Sungai Batu on Youtube. Prof. Mokhtar of USM said that the one in Lembah Bujang practiced Hindu while the people of Sungai Batu, which is about 7 km inland from Lembah Bujang, practiced animisme, waaaaaayyy before Hindu-Buddha influence came to Kedah Tua. He added that those jetty and iron smelting sites in Sungai Batu were established there as at that time, the sea level is THERE.

    Since as the sea level reduces, new soil and land arises, perhaps making them to move nearer to the beach in Lembah Bujang.

    Got it? No?

    Here’s the link on the documentary.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oAbe-mKxSE

    and here’s another video recorded perhaps by some visitors.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PLy288fv0w

  3. n305er

    14/09/2015 at 10:22 am

    Well it looks like I might not even need to say what others have been saying that certain people/parties are so scared about our real history and so we don’t really get the real story at all.

    So when you say “not marketed enough”, I feel that it’s more like it was not intended to be marketed in the first place by certain parties.

    But in anyway, I’ll always remember the joke “Malaysia dug deep into our soils and found nothing, so the government declared that we used WiFi way before it was cool”

  4. Iwondery

    14/09/2015 at 10:06 am

    Bujang Valley and its surrounding area has long been known internationally as a site with deep potential. It’s only that it’s not well-known locally for some reason. So when I’ve heard this news, i was kinda half-expecting it, since the site is, plainly speaking, overloaded with stuffs. I once sat on a stone slab in the museum area, thinking it was a bench, and then when I looked again at the slab, it was actually a tomb. A really old Hindu tomb, judging from the swastika and the old Brahmi script on the slab. It was in stark plain sight, and no one else seems to notice it. Duh.
    As for the reason why it’s not popular, I can think of several:
    1) History doesn’t bring good money lar
    – Well, it’s kinda true in short term. Archaeologists are some of the poorest fellows in science. Even I was susceptible to this perception; I had an ambition to be a palaeontologist (dinosaur guys), before I decided that it’ll probably make me a dirt-poor guy given Malaysia’s lack of dinosaurs.
    2) Many Malaysians lack interest for history
    – Many factors for this, including political ones, but generally this is why history is not really a hit here. I’ll attribute this to the way we are taught History though; too much rote learning, too little practical exposure. Kids don’t want to remember 100 dates and times, they want to see things in action themselves.
    3) Many Malaysians are actually ashamed of their old history
    – I believe this only affects most Malays and other native Muslims. There is somehow this perception that the natives’ pre-Islamic history is somehow degrading and made them less civilized. This perception is complicated by religious and political influence. You can see this in local history books; taking for example the Kedah history, the history of Kedah before Islam is very briefly listed, even though pre-Islamic Kedah period is much more longer than Islamic Kedah period.
    4) Many Malaysians lack respect for history
    – The story about the demolished candi is already there. It just goes to show how little people think about history when it doesn’t really matter to them.
    5) The site is too rich for its own good
    – The area is basically overflowing with artifacts and structures. Some local villagers’ homes even have candi remnants and tombs right underneath the floor, so it kinda complicate the attempt to gazette the site. I think funding issues can be resolved if the state gomen allowed the villagers to promote their own houses as being historical sites via homestays, tour guidance etc in exchange for a little fee. It can help create jobs too.
    5) Too little is known to make for effective tourism promotion
    – Bujang Valley site is still basically a work-in-progress despite over 200 years of work there. Many things are still unanswered; who these people are, what culture do they represent, etc. For me, based on metallurgy and marine navigational tech left behind and the linguistic traces in Malay, I personally believe that it started as a fully-native animistic Malay+Senoi chiefdom before later accepting rule by a small elite Tamil aristocracy that also functioned as a Hindu, and later Buddhist, religious figure, like pretty much any other kingdoms in the region contemporary to it. There are different views on this though, so look it up.

    I still hope that current perception will change over time. Come on guys, we beat Angkor Wat already 😀

    • New Jo-Lyn

      14/09/2015 at 10:27 am

      Hi Iwondery, thanks so much for your insightful comment. Really cool that you wanted to be a palaeontologist! It’s sad, the part about people not wanting to accept history. About the “bench”, are you saying that the site managers actually put it out as a bench, or they don’t display the items properly and it could cause visitors to think it was a bench? D:

    • Iwondery

      14/09/2015 at 10:48 am

      I believe that no one noticed that it’s actually a tomb and therefore no one has labelled it or protected it properly. This happened quite a few years ago though, so probably someone should have noticed it by now. The tomb is a few yards behind the museum building, in good view of the surrounding area and right beside a shady tree, which make it all too prepped-up to be a nice ‘bench’ :O
      Of course I couldn’t really blame the management for missing it out, since there are practically ancient stuffs strewn everywhere. You’d probably step on an old coin or two every few meters and barely notice it.

    • New Jo-Lyn

      14/09/2015 at 12:06 pm

      omg lol that’s pretty bad. Shouldn’t they house these things so that weather elements won’t further destroy them? 🙁

    • Iwondery

      14/09/2015 at 3:16 pm

      I believe the reason is at that time, the museum was quite underfunded. Only a few artifacts were housed in the museum, and those artifacts are usually the fragile ones, like metal relics or wooden pillars. Stone artifacts were left either around the reconstructed candis, or randomly anywhere. Yes, anywhere. Even the road leading to the site weren’t properly maintained and lighted. Going there at night will be a very spooky experience.
      Things only got better after the expose on the candi demolition though. I’m hoping that the ship discovery will turn things around and make the site a worthy edu-tourism location, because to be frank, what has been found so far is only the tip of the iceberg. Remember that the reconstructed candis are mostly from the younger topmost archaeological layer (circa 4th AD), and any structures contemporary to the Sungai Batu ships are still deep down under anywhere in the 200kmsq site, waiting to be discovered. 😀

  5. Rahman Yii

    14/09/2015 at 9:39 am

    Malaysia is the one of those country that is so ashamed of its own heritage that It tries to rewrite history book every year. It’s also one of those country that destroy its own historical site like the IS. A country of lost identity is what Malaysia is.

  6. Simon Chen

    13/09/2015 at 10:24 pm

    Duh! Those are Hindus! Not Malays! Only after the arrival of Arab merchants do Malays appear.
    That is why Candi 11 must be destroyed. Because..reasons…

    • Chun Jinn

      14/09/2015 at 11:24 am

      everybody knows malays are hindus before they are muslim. so what is the problem?

    • Simon Chen

      14/09/2015 at 11:52 am

      Hehe! Just playing around, chillax!

    • Ahmad Syauqi Bin Hamzah

      14/09/2015 at 4:59 pm

      Lol, can’t differentiate between religion and race aye?

      Hint, hint~ there are Non-Muslim Malays all over South East Asia~

    • Simon Chen

      14/09/2015 at 7:40 pm

      Hin, hint ~ Non-Muslim, non-Malays all over Southeast Asia, yo!

    • disqus_P8hRko6ePF

      15/09/2015 at 11:42 am

      kurang ajar

    • Simon Chen

      15/09/2015 at 1:43 pm

      Sorry, the Malay race does not own Southeast Asia, including Chinese and Indians. Hope that helps.

  7. MusaNg

    13/09/2015 at 9:37 am

    New Jo-Lyn,

    I have known for quite a while that Kedah has a very old history, but the oldest in S.E.A.?

    Gosh!!! I hope someone updates the Wikipedia entry for Kedah 🙂

    You do know that your article will be very carefully scrutinised by certain parties and where possible the bulldozers will be sent out to remove any evidence that contradict what is displayed at Muzium Negara.

    You say wwwaaatt? I said Muzium Negara 🙂

    Go to Muzium Negara and tell me when Malaysians of different ethnicities and religions appeared in the timeline of our nation. I would be most curious to know if the displays have been updated since the last time I was there.

    Incidentally, Kelantan had better get its’ act together because I have reason to believe that it may also have evidence of very early trading posts. These trading posts would have served the region around the Gulf of Thailand and perhaps as far up the coastline to Taiwan and Shanghai.

    The South China Sea was a very busy place then as it is now.

    On the other hand, maybe the bulldozers have already been at work in Kelantan 🙁

    • New Jo-Lyn

      14/09/2015 at 10:39 am

      LOL thanks Musa for your comment. I haven’t been to Muzium Negara myself in AGES. Hey, about the Kelantan one, do you have a link to the story?

    • MusaNg

      14/09/2015 at 1:36 pm

      Hey, you’re the journalist.

      I’m just a reader making wild claims about Kelantan’s history 🙂

      On a more serious note, I cannot exactly remember where or how I came up with this cockamamie statement of mine.

      I think it was a combination of several articles I read while trying to establish who the very first inhabitants of Penisular Malaysia were.

      I vaguely recall that the articles discussed migration patterns and the trade which followed. I think there was mention of mooring stones used by trading ships found in Kelantan.

      I am not trying to upstage the Indus civilisation but from a purely academic stance, we need to bear in mind that the Chinese have about the same development in civil society as have been found in the Indus Valley.

      I have no doubt that if you speak to folks at the University of Malaya, they would be more than happy to make some suggestions as to where you can look next.

      As for Muzium Negara, you should make a visit and see for yourself if my allegations are true – I could be a bald faced liar for all you know 🙂

  8. Carpe Diem

    13/09/2015 at 8:59 am

    This discovery opens up a past that will conflict with the “story” that has been carefully crafted and modified through the years…true history versus crafted history can be a painful reality for some.

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