‘Need to locate undiscovered sites in Kelabit Highlands’

KUCHING: There is an urgency to locate any previously undiscovered sites with archaeological value in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak before the Ba’ Kelalan-Bario road project comes through the area.

Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith speaking on the Early Central Borneo Project 2014.

Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith of Sogang University, Seoul, said this at the Niah Room, Dewan Tun Abdul Razak recently, when he was delivering a talk entitled ‘Early Central Borneo Project 2014: A Research, Community, and Capacity-Building Archaeology Project in Pa’Lungan, Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak’.

The project is a collaborative research-community archaeology and heritage project investigating the prehistory of central Borneo.

According to Dr Lloyd-Smith, this year’s work include a field school in archaeology for 10 Unimas undergraduate Anthropology and Sociology students in the Faculty of Social Sciences, who had just taken the first ever university level course in archaeology in Sarawak.

“Field work plays a great part in archaeology,” he said, adding that the way they work with the local communities have changed a lot over the last 25 years.

“We have to work with the community to answer any questions they have. People in the area have a strong connection with the local landscape.

It has to be more than holding exhibitions or inviting local people to look at the sites.

They have to work with us as equal partners in research planning. We also have to ask ourselves what questions do we want to answer,” he said.

Yesterday’s talk focused on three sites — re-investigation of a stone mound (Perupun Arur Ritan) first excavated by the Sarawak Museum in 1962; further investigation of an Early Metal Age habitation site (Ra’an Ubud Pa’it), dated to 2000 years ago; and re-investigation of an enigmatic circular ditch feature (Nabang Pa’Libong), also first opened by the Sarawak Museum in 1962.

Part of the team’s work involved reopening digs started by former Sarawak Museum curator Tom Harrison, and looking at it again with fresh eyes.

“Nothing like this is being done on megaliths in South East Asia. It’s fun and also incredibly important,” said Dr Lloyd-Smith.

He described noticing unusual presence of stones along a path at Ra’an Ubud Pa’it, and digging test holes only to find broken pieces of pottery. Digging more holes around the area unearthed more pieces where locals said there were no previous settlements.

“My hypothesis is that this is one large site with different areas,” he said, adding that the Ba’ Kelalan-Bario road will be coming through that very area and they need to identify exactly how big the site is.

He also talked about the two mysterious circular ditches at Nabang Pa’Libong, with an entrance that faced each other and with river stones paving a path into the circle.

“We have to stop thinking about megaliths as a site to put a fence around. The sites are connected together in an archaeological landscape. If we protect only the site, we lose the landscape.”

As for the big rocks that made up the megaliths, Dr Lloyd-Smith have been informed where it might come from and is planning to include the area in his next visit to the Kelabit Highlands early next year.

Visit the ‘Early Central Borneo Project’ on Facebook for more updates and photos.

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