Ancient bones found at Penang’s stone age site

Prof Mokhtar placing a cotton layer on top of the bones to preserve them.

GEORGE TOWN: New bones dating back at least 5,000 years were found by archaeologists at a stone age site in Guar Kepah, Butterworth, on Monday, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said.

He said the Penang government was very excited with the new findings as the site was older than the Bujang Valley archaeology site in Kedah.

Lim said the discovery was made when piling works for a new neolithic gallery at the site began.

Archaeologists found a skull, a femur bone and a rib cage.

The site is located next to the Muda River, the northern border of Penang and Kedah, about an hour’s drive from Butterworth town.

Lim said the findings were made by state government-hired archaeologists from Universiti Sains Malaysia, headed by the Centre of Global Archeological Research director Prof Dr Mokhtar Saidin.


In a press conference in Komtar today, Mokhtar said the bones were found beneath the floor of a house which was recently flattened to make way for the neolithic gallery.

Mokhtar said the bones were found buried 70cm below ground, as Public Works Department (PWD) backhoes began digging.

“When I saw the cement used in that person’s house, I suspected something was below. After the initial dig, I told PWD to stop, so we could investigate.

“What we have found here is very important to the country. From this, we can tell how the people here lived, what they ate and more,” he said.

Mokhtar said there were three homes, situated on top of “shell mounds”, at the site.

He said back in the stone age, shell mounds were used to bury bodies. The dead were usually buried at least 18m below these mounds.

Mokhtar said the British had removed these mounds during a 1860 excavation, but they probably did not suspect there was much more to be discovered further below.

Skull bone find
Skull bone find

“From our initial findings, we found these bodies to have been buried in a folded position. We also found earthenware and seashells,” he said.

Lim said the government had extended a RM20,000 grant to Mokhtar and his team for excavation tools, payment for workers, field analysis, carbon dating and scientific analysis.

“The digging works have been ordered to stop, and the building of the gallery has been put on hold. We will only carry out works until Prof Mokhtar says it is good to go,” Lim said.

The British had also found bones from the neolithic stone age in the late 1800s at the Guar Kepah site, which has recently been earmarked to be turned into a stone age museum and gallery.

The 37 bones found by archaeologist Sir G W Earl are now in storage in Leiden, the Netherlands. The Penang government is in talks to have them repatriated here to be placed at the new gallery.

The RM777,000 state government gallery will feature the adaptation of marine life there 5,000 years ago.

The Guar Kepah site is the first archaeological survey and excavation worksite in Malaysia.