Niah Cave, Sarawak

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Within the Gunung Subis limestone massif of north Borneo is a series of caves that have been used for burial and settlement over many millennia. The most important, known as the Great Cave, was extensively excavated by Barbara and Tom Harrison intermittently between 1954 and 1967. They showed that the site contained a long series of deposits starting in the Middle Palaeolithic with a pebble and flake industry. What is claimed to be an early Homo sapiens skull dating to perhaps 40 000 years ago was also found, although the association between the bones and the charcoal that yielded the radiocarbon date is not secure. Higher deposits in the cave include flexed inhumations from the period 12 000–15 000 bc, and extended burials in wooden coffins or on mats from the 1st and 2nd millennia bc. The most recent burials in the cave are jar burials and cremations from the period 1500 bc through to about ad 1000. Distinctive styles of local pottery appear around 2500 bc along with Neolithic polished stone axes. A new multidisciplinary programme of excavations by Graeme Barker and David Gilbertson started in 2000 with the aim of reinvestigating this important sequence.


G. Barker et al., 2000, The Niah Caves project. Sarawak Museum Journal, NS 76, 111–49

Subjects: Archaeology.

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