Penang wants world heritage status for Guar Kepah site

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BUTTERWORTH: Penang plans to pursue a Unesco World Heritage listing for the Guar Kepah prehistoric site.

This follows the discovery of human remains believed to be that of a woman from about 5,000 years ago last Monday.

Located 8km from Kepala Batas town near here, the site was a coastal Neolithic-era burial ground where bodies were placed in 5m-high seashell mounds commonly known as middens.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng today said the state government planned to work with the tourism and culture ministry to apply to Unesco’s World Heritage Centre to consider Guar Kepah as a heritage site.

He said he would discuss the matter with Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz once the on-going archaeological work, conducted by the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR), was completed.

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The vicinity was first excavated from 1851 to 1934 by British archaeologists under the colonial administration.

A total of 37 bones found by explorer George Windsor Earl during that period are now kept at the Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum (National Museum of Natural History) in Leiden, Holland.

“We will also arrange for the 37 bones recovered by British archaeologists to be repatriated from Leiden soon,” Lim said.

“The recent finding of more bones shows that this place is a historical treasure trove and a site for world researchers to study prehistoric times,” he told reporters at the site.

Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy, who is overseeing the building of a gallery to highlight the discoveries made there, said his office will contribute RM10,000 to the project.

This is in addition to the RM20,000 grant pledged by Lim last week to help finance necessities like excavation tools, payment for workers, field analysis, carbon dating and scientific analysis.

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On April 17, the CGAR team led by Prof Mokhtar Saidin stumbled on the bones during ground-breaking work for the gallery.

They found a skull, a femur bone and a rib cage. The state government has since ordered the construction to be put on hold.

Mokhtar has said based on the discovery, humans in the Neolithic era mostly set up home near the sea and lived as fishermen.

The Neolithic period site at Guar Kepah, which is older than the ancient civilisation site of Lembah Bujang and Sungai Batu in Kedah, is the only prehistoric site in the peninsula that serves as evidence of humans living near coastal areas.

The state had last year announced a RM800,000 allocation for the building of the gallery which would also feature the history of marine life adaptation in the area 5,000 years ago.

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