Discovering the past and trying to protect its future

The Early Borneo Project builds up on the discoveries of an early settlement in the Kelabit highlands, while Sustainable Cultural Heritage Management Plan works to preserve these sites for generations to come.

By Patricia Hului

IT IS DEFINITELY SWEATER weather up at Pa’Lungan in the Kelabit highlands located 1,000 meters above sea level in the middle of Borneo Island.

But I bet most Sarawakians are not aware that this Kelabit village called Pa’Lungan lies on ancient remains of a human settlement dating back to 2000 years ago.

Attached with Sogang University, Seoul with the Institute for East Asian Studies (Southeast Asian Archaeology) assistant professor Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith’s gave a brief talk on his work in ‘Early Central Borneo Project 2014: A Research, Community, and Capacity-Building Archaeology Project in Pa’Lungan, Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak’ on Aug 26 at the Tun Abdul Razak building.

This Early Central Borneo Project 2014 coordinated by Dr Lloyd-Smith focused on three sites: re-investigation of a stone mound at Perupun Arur Ritan which was first excavated by the Sarawak Museum in 1962, further investigation of an Early Metal Age habitation site at Ra’an Ubud Pa’it dating back to 2000 years ago and re-investigation of an enigmatic circular ditch feature (Nabang Pa’ Libong) which was also first investigated by the Sarawak museum back in 1962.

The projects were building on the results of an initial one week of fieldwork in 2013 but this year’s work was expanded to include a Field School in Archaeology for select undergraduate Anthropology and Sociology students in the Faculty of Social Sciences Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

“The big part of what we did this time was basic archaeology 101 field skills,” Dr Lloyd-Smith said. Among the archaeological skills important during any fieldwork is learning how to operate some machines, learning how to describe soils, and draw.

Lloyd-Smith explained, “It is not just pottery we are after or stone tools or the nice glass beads; equally important are environmental samples, looking for remains, charcoal, bird seeds and those types of things.”

As they just came back from their two-week trip in August, Dr Lloyd-Smith described their findings as very preliminary, “but we also got a lot of pictures and for every question that we have answered we have ten new ones on what we are going to do next and what indications these things are.”

One future goal of the project is to produce a case study model for a Sustainable Cultural Heritage Management Plan for the long-term protection and maintenance of the archaeological sites, monuments, and their cultural landscape in Pa’ Lungan area.

An example of important monuments in that area is Batu Ritung, the last and the only standing megalith.

Legend has it that the megalith was placed to commemorate a great Kelabit warrior and aristocrat by the name of Ritung.

This megalith consists of four standing slabs with average dimensions measuring 2 m long, 2.3 m wide and 0.5 m thick.

It has been listed as a historical monument in accordance to Part V of the Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance 1993.

Lloyd-Smith voiced out that the management and conservation of Batu Ritung will only last for the next 50 years if the community there plays as an active part in looking after the site and managing the site.

With development finally knocking on Pa’ Lungan’s door and plans to build roads to this area; research from this project is essential for the area’s urban planning; besides the obvious monuments that can be seen, there are a lot more underneath that needed to be excavated and preserved.

“A very important result of what we are doing is demonstrating how rich this area is and how careful development needs to be planned,” he said.

This project is on-going as there is much more to learn about all of these sites.
The next trip for Early Central Borneo Project 2014 back to Pa’ Lungan is expected to be early next year.

For more information on the project, visit their Facebook page ‘Early Central Borneo Project’.

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