Sunday, June 16

Seed fund pledged for Sarawak Museum to produce a zooarchaeologist

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Cranbrook at Niah Cave in 1958.

KUCHING: The Fifth Earl of Cranbrook Dato Sri Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy has pledged a seed fund of RM100,000 to the Sarawak Museum for a suitable candidate to obtain the qualification needed to be employable as a zooarchaeologist.

Dato Sri Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy

Lord Cranbrook was named a recipient of the prestigious 2014 Merdeka Award for his outstanding contribution in pioneering research and conservation of Malaysia’s forest biodiversity and the ecology and biology of Malaysian mammals and birds, and for advocating environmental conservation.

The seed fund is part of his Award winnings.

Cranbrook identified a need for qualified curatorial staff and facilities to match the new developments at the Sarawak Museum.

Major renovation works have been scheduled at the Museum including refurbishment plans for a new building on site, coupled with a new storage and curation wing following the demolishment of the Dewan Tun Razak.

“It is essential to combine efforts to ensure that zooarchaeological skills are perpetuated at the Sarawak Museum,” said Cranbrook.

“If the museum is to retain its status as the repository of highly significant collection of animal remains from archaeological sites, it is imperative to find trained zooarchaeologists or graduate biologists with aspirations in the field of Zooarchaeology.

He hoped that his pledge will be met by counterpart offers from public sector science grants and additional donations by private benefactors, including businesses and generous individuals.

In regards to training, Cranbrook proposed for the candidate to be attached to a local university such as UNIMAS, but carry out the research at an appropriate institution in Europe.

The student could also possibly be temporarily attached to the MacDonald Institute, Cambridge. Training at graduate student level is of high value for work within the field of Zooarchaeology, particularly for the separation of species from skeleton remains and any involvement in excavation campaigns.

Referring a long connection with Malaysia and her people especially Sarawak and the Sarawak Museum, Cranbrook said he was first engaged as Technical Assistant to the Curator in 1956.

Now, 58 years later, he is still Honourary Curator of mammals and a frequent contributor to the Sarawak Museum Journal.

“Among the tasks assigned to me long ago was to save, sort and provide preliminary identifications of all animal remains from the archaeological excavations undertaken by the Sarawak Museum.,” he said.

“The most significant being the 2000-2004 campaign at Niah Caves, where we established the importance of animal remains in providing palaeo-ecological and palaeo-environmental information on Sarawak in ancient times, as well as cultural evidence for past human diets, tool-making (utilising animal materials), weaponry and hunting technology. It was disappointing that there were no staff member qualified to be attached to this project as a zooarchaeological trainee.”

Since that time, Cranbrook has given a short training course on the identification of mammalian remains, prepared a simple manual and made copies of the most useful guide to comparative anatomy of the mammalian skeleton.

Unfortunately, this initiative also did not bring forward a likely recruit with the necessary qualification and experience in Zooarchaeology to meet future needs.

He said there must be a coordinated effort to ensure that the field of zooarchaeology is maintained and supported at the Sarawak Museum.

The Merdeka Award was established by PETRONAS, ExxonMobil and Shell on 27 August 2007 to recognise and reward people who have made outstanding and lasting contributions to Malaysia in their respective fields.

To date, the Merdeka Award has been conferred on 28 individuals and two organisations.

For more information and for the latest updates on the Merdeka Award and its activities, visit http://www.merdekaaward.my or http://j.mp/merdekaaward.