KUCHING: A Niah Cave collection which is kept at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, USA, will be returned to the state by 2019.
This was announced by State Museum Department director Ipoi Datan, who said a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the museum on behalf of the state government and the university’s Department of Anthropology was signed earlier this month.
“The Niah Cave collection comprises 116 human burials which were shipped to Nevada in 1966-1967 to be studied by physical anthropologist and archaeologist Shelaigh and Richard Brooks.
“After their retirement, the collection was then brought to the University of Nevada, where it has been kept until today,” Ipoi told a press conference at his office here yesterday.
Following the signing of the MoU, Ipoi said that 33 boxes containing human burials from the Niah Collection were handed over to the Museum Dept and then transported by land to Florida which took three days.
“The collection is now at the University of Florida in Gainesville for temporary safekeeping, research and consolidation purposes,” he said, adding that a second MoU was signed between the museum and the university’s Department of Anthropology for this purpose.
He said the collection would be kept there for the next two years because the new Sarawak Museum Campus was still under construction.
“We are preparing a special place to archive the Niah Cave collection upon its return. There will be a storage facility at the new museum campus to store sensitive items such as this collection.
“For now, the University of Florida is temporarily safekeeping them for us and by 2019, they will assist in sending back the collection.”
Asked on the significance of bringing the Niah Cave collection back to Sarawak, Ipoi said the collection was initially brought to Nevada on loan for study purposes.
“With Sarawak being the rightful owner, we should bring the Niah Cave collection back to the state.”
He added that they were also planning to bring back other collections belonging to the state.
“We will go around to look if there are other collections such as ethnography and we will try our best to bring such collections back to Kuching.
He added that most of the artifacts would be archived though some would be exhibited.
“However, the collection can be accessed and studied by accredited researchers,” he said.
The museum’s archeology assistant curator Mohd Sherman Sauffi and public relations officer Muhammad Zakeria Hattar were also present at the press conference.