Perak govt plans to shut access to prehistoric Gua Tambun rock paintings

An example of a cave drawing in Gua Tambun. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
An example of a cave drawing in Gua Tambun. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

IPOH, July 10 — Gua Tambun, the site of South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art, will soon be shut to the public as access routes to the area are unsafe and poorly maintained.

State tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing told Malay Mail the best thing to do now is to temporarily close off the area after he visited the site, which is home to hundreds of paintings dating back to the Neolithic age.

However, he said a decision would only be made after he received reports from the various government agencies involved in maintaining the site, including the National Heritage Department and Ipoh City Council.

State tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing told Malay Mail that it would be best to temporarily close off the area after paying a visit to the site today. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
State tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing told Malay Mail that it would be best to temporarily close off the area after paying a visit to the site today. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

Tan said the authorities will come up with a holistic plan to revive the unique attraction.

“At the moment, it is not safe. The access routes to the paintings are not visitor friendly as well and there aren’t enough signages.

“There is some confusion about which agency is actually responsible for the maintenance of the site, and we will need clarity on this,” Tan said.

“We also want experts from the National Heritage Department to advise us on how to restore and preserve the paintings.”

Access routes to the site of South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art have been found to be unsafe and poorly maintained. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
Access routes to the site of South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art have been found to be unsafe and poorly maintained. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

Tan said he had instructed the Perak State Parks Corporation, Ipoh City Council and National Heritage Department to come up with an action plan to repair and revive this site.

Discovered by a British soldier in 1959, the cave paintings are believed to date back 3,000 years though some claim they could even be 12,000 years old.

Measuring 24.38m wide and 8.13m high, they are South-east Asia’s largest hematite Neolithic rock art, and believed to be the only drawings of their kind in Malaysia.

The grassy path is muddy and littered with horse droppings — due to the fact that the hill borders a private horse-racing course. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
The grassy path is muddy and littered with horse droppings — due to the fact that the hill borders a private horse-racing course. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

The paintings are located on a small hill next to the Kem Syed Putra army camp, only five minutes from town. The hill borders a private horse racing course.

However, accessibility to the paintings is severely limited. There is only one main pathway leading to a small staircase that leads to the paintings, which are around 40 metres from ground level.

The grassy path is muddy and littered with horse droppings because of the private horse racing course.

There are only two ways for visitors to access the path; one route takes them along the side of the racing course, while the other is a narrow path that is equally overgrown.

There is only one main pathway leading to a small staircase that leads to the artwork, which is around 40 metres from ground level. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
There is only one main pathway leading to a small staircase that leads to the artwork, which is around 40 metres from ground level. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

In a 2011 study conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre for Global Archaeological Research, researchers found a total of 640 rock paintings covering a total of 27 square metres of space.

The study, published in the bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, said the paintings included zoomorphs (elements interpreted as animal forms), anthromorphs (human shapes), geometric features, botanic shapes and abstract shapes.

Many, however, are faded. The cave walls below the paintings are marred by graffiti.

Another example of a cave drawing in Gua Tambun. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
Another example of a cave drawing in Gua Tambun. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

During the site visit, Tan was also told that Tourism Perak and other government agencies had spent RM20,000 in May last year conducting maintenance work in the area.

He said it was vital to have a dedicated agency functioning as a permanent caretaker for the area.

“If there is no caretaker, no matter how much we spend for the development of the area, it will not be well maintained,” said Tan.

“This is a very important element of the upcoming Kinta Geopark and we want the problems to be rectified before the park is opened in October.”

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