State seeks Unesco listing for site of ‘Penang Woman’ discovery (VIDEO)

Archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin showing Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P.Ramasamy the prehistoric skeleton found in Guar Kepah, located in north Seberang Perai. — Pictures by KE Ooi
Archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin showing Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P.Ramasamy the prehistoric skeleton found in Guar Kepah, located in north Seberang Perai. — Pictures by KE Ooi

SEBERANG PERAI, April 25 — Penang will apply for the Guar Kepah Neolithic archaeological site to be listed as a Unesco world archaeological site once excavation works are complete.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state will work with relevant parties such as Tourism and Heritage Ministry, Badan Warisan Malaysia, USM and Think City to ensure all documentation is complete for the submission to Unesco.

“I will speak to Nazri on Unesco listing for this site because this is a very important archaeological site,” he said in a press conference at the site, referring to Tourism and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

During the visit today, Lim said the team led by archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin is preparing to finally remove the prehistoric skeleton from the ground its burial ground, located in north Seberang Perai near Penaga and Kepala Batas on mainland Penang today.

The skeleton, believed to be that of a woman in her 30s, will be stored in a temperature-controlled container at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and will only be exhibited at the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery once that is completed.

“There’s Perak Man and now we have Penang Woman. The professor has said there may be more so we will let him excavate the whole area, maybe, we might even find Penang Man, Penang Child,” Lim said.

Mokhtar initially applied for two weeks to excavate the whole area before construction works of the gallery resumes, but Lim said they can extend it for another month or two if the need arises.

The 9,671 sq m site is now under the management of Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI) for the construction of the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery.

Lim said CMI will work with Think City to build and manage the gallery with “Penang Woman” as the main attraction.

He also hoped the federal government will provide financial assistance for the project due to the significant historical find.

On the removal of Penang Woman to be kept at USM, Mokhtar said they must work fast to preserve the skeleton.

“Previously, it was protected underground but now it’s exposed to the environment so we have to work fast to remove it and keep it in a controlled environment to prevent degradation,” he said.

Due to the extended time given to Mokhtar and his team to excavate the site, Lim said the construction of the gallery will be delayed.

The RM1 million gallery design will be changed to suit the current findings and now, it is expected to be completed end of this year.

The Neolithic Penang Woman will be fully removed from her grave and kept in a controlled environment in Universiti Sains Malaysia to preserve it, April 25, 2017. 
The Neolithic Penang Woman will be fully removed from her grave and kept in a controlled environment in Universiti Sains Malaysia to preserve it, April 25, 2017. 

Last week, the skeleton of “Penang Woman” was found during excavation works to build the gallery.

All digging works were halted immediately, but the lower half of the skeleton was already destroyed.

The upper body, including the ribcage, skull and arms, were found intact and surrounded by burial ceremony items of that time such as pottery, stone tools and different types of shells.

Mokhtar believed the woman, estimated to be around 157cm in height, was someone important in the community based on how she was buried and the items with which she was buried.

The Penang Woman was the first and only prehistoric skeleton found in Penang in over 150 years after British archaeologists took back 40 skeletons from the same site.

All the skeletons are now kept at the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland.

The British archaeologists were the first to record findings of three Shell Middens and Neolithic remains in Penang back in 1851.

Shell Middens were burial grounds of a certain tribe of people that lived near the coast.

Two of the Shell Middens have long gone leaving only the third one, labelled as site C.