Shells from prehistoric burial site sent for carbon dating

Skull bone find

BUTTERWORTH: Samples of sea shells and charcoal dating back at least 5,000 years ago discovered at a prehistoric site near Penaga have been sent for lab testing in the United States to determine its age.

The Guar Kepah prehistoric site’s chief archaeologist Mokhtar Saidin said three samples have been taken from what used to be a burial ground.

He said besides the three-bone find on Monday, his team also found pottery and other earthenware which was likely used in a burial ceremony in the Neolithic period.

Mokhtar, who is Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre of Global Archaeological Research director, said besides human bones, bones of boars and deer were also found at the same site before.


He said the find is significant to our national history, as it was the only burial site using shell mounds.

The shells are basically consumed shellfish which are heaped on each other and people were buried below them.

According to Mokhtar, there were three shell mounds in Guar Kepah, all of which were cleared for archaeological work by the British in 1851.

“Last Friday, we sent three samples of siput cengkerang and charcoal to the Beta Analytic Radiocarbon Dating Lab in Miami, Florida.

“By Wednesday, we will get to determine the actual age of the findings,” he told reporters at a press conference at the site today.

Mokthar said the bones would be carefully taken out and brought to USM to have its age, gender, the cause of death, and other qualities to be ascertained.

“From the bones find, we can say the bones are from a woman, based on the teeth.

“We will bring the bones back to our campus on the island to study them further,” he said.

On April 17, Mokhtar and his team stumbled upon the bones while ground breaking works began at the site for a prehistoric gallery that was to be built.

Mokhtar’s team of 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.

The state government has since ordered the building of the gallery to be put on hold since the find.

The Penang government then extended a RM20,000 grant to Mokhtar and his team for excavation tools, payment for workers, field analysis, carbon dating and scientific analysis.

Earlier, the state government announced a RM800,000 allocation to build a gallery featuring the adaptation of marine life there 5,000 years ago.

Between 1851 and 1934, British archaeologists had found bones from the Guar Kepah site. The 37 bones found by archaeologist Sir G W Earl are now in storage in Leiden, the Netherlands.

The Penang government is considering having the bones repatriated from the Netherlands to be placed in the new gallery.

Ancient bones found at Penang’s stone age site