MIRI: Archaeological artefacts taken from Niah Caves and which are now overseas should be brought home as they are the heritage of Sarawak and Malaysia, said Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Archaeologists from as far as Nevada University in the United States of America had showed interest in Niah Caves as early as 1957 when 122 skeletons were taken away to be studied by Richard and Sheilagh Brooks.
Though the Brooks have prepared some reports, none have been published.
Professor Zuraina Majid last inspected them in 2004.
“As the Brooks are elderly and no longer able to conduct research I would like to propose that the artefacts, or some of them, be brought back to Sarawak,” said Taib at the launch of an international seminar on Bornean archaeology here Wednesday night.
The Centre for Global Archaeological Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang had brought back Gua Cha (Kelantan) burials from Cambridge University in 2008.
“However, before the Niah burials could be taken back Sarawak Museum must build a special room with specially designed curation boxes to meet appropriate standards of storage and preservation,” said Taib.
The proposed place for this is at the left wing of Miri Petroleum Museum which could be designed and prepared with assistance of USM staff.
“The burials should be brought home so as to be easily accessible to researchers,” Taib said.
The estimated cost of the whole project is around RM1.5 million which includes initial investigation trips to Las Vegas, air freight and airfares and construction of a special curation room and facilities.
Taib also proposed the nomination of Niah Caves as Unesco World Heritage Site.
“The status of Niah National Park as World Heritage Site would be a boost to Sarawak and Malaysia,” he said.
As a world heritage site, Niah Caves could enhance Sarawak’s status, just like Mulu Caves, he said.
Taib also proposed that the Ministry of Tourism and Heritage and Sarawak Museum declare the proto-historic sites of Santubong as historical sites or monuments under the provisions of Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance 1993.
Based on archaeological evidence – ceramics, coins, beads, iron objects, religious relics and stone engravings, Santubong played an important role in ancient maritime trade links between the Middle East, India, Malay Peninsular, Southeast Asia and China.
The ‘candi’ structure discovered at Bongkissam, showed connection with south India.
Santubong was possibly a part of the Srivijaya Empire.
“A recent survey conducted in April 2010 revealed the presence of engravings on some boulders located around the peninsula where Batu Buaya is located.