Archaeologist: Stone-age ‘Penang Woman’ a meat eater

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GEORGE TOWN: The bones of the ancient “Penang Woman” found at a stone-age burial site near Butterworth show that she was likely a meat eater, based on an isotopic study, a state-appointed archaeologist said today.

Prof Mohd Mokhtar Saidin, who is the chief researcher of the Guar Kepah archaeological site, said the 5,710-year-old remains showed the woman likely survived mostly on seafood, based on the samples of shellfish and cockles found at the site located beside the Muda River, the northern border of Penang and Kedah, about an hour’s drive from Butterworth.

He said that during the Neolithic period (about 5,000 years ago), the site was about 30-50 metres away from the sea but that the sea was now about 8km away.

“There were bodies dug up from prehistoric sites elsewhere in the country, like Lenggong (Valley in Perak). Those were buried in caves, but this burial site is the only one in Malaysia with bodies buried in a shell midden.

“We are confident of finding more human remains as we dig further. We have so far dug up an area of 55 sq metres,” said the Universiti Sains Malaysia professor at a media conference at the state assembly today.

He thanked the Penang government for funding the excavation.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government gave RM50,000 in grants to Mokhtar and his team to pay for the excavation, workers, field analysis, carbon dating and scientific analysis.

Mokhtar was hired by the Penang government to conduct archaeological findings and to oversee the building of an RM830,000 prehistoric gallery on the site. However, on April 17, the archaeological team stumbled upon bones at a shell midden under a vacated house while ground-breaking works were taking place.

The archaeologists found a skull, a femur bone and a rib cage, plus many pottery bits dating back to the Neolithic era.

The state government has since put on hold the building of the gallery, pending further excavation.

Today, Lim said the gallery could only be ready in “five to 10 years”, as more extensive research and changes to the plans were required at the site.

“We will make changes to the concept and the actual design of the gallery, and this will increase the cost.

“The gallery will showcase the latest bone findings of the oldest Penang Woman, the shell midden burial rituals from the Neolithic period and other tools found during the excavation,” he added.