Sunday, May 22, 2011

World’s oldest stone tools in our her itage Read more: World’s oldest stone tools in our heritage

Stone flake tools.

This is metasediment rock in Bukit Bunuh showing meteor impact evidence.

Prof Dr Mokhtar Saidin pointing out that the impact rocks are easily unearthed beneath the top layer.


Once terracing started for the oil palm plantation, the suevite rocks started to come up.

Stone tool artefacts — dated 1.83 million years old — have been found in a Lenggong oil palm plantation in Perak. SUBHADRA DEVAN finds out more about this possible World Heritage Site

UNIVERSITI Sains Malaysia Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia director Assoc Prof Dr Mokhtar Saidin and his team found a suevite axe as well as flake and chopping tools in 2008, in rocks churned up by lorries in an area called Bukit Bunuh.

The hand-held axe Mokhtar uncovered looked good for slicing hide, cutting meat or dismembering carcasses.

The Lenggong Valley is home to a number of prehistoric sites, with important archaeological findings. These include Kota Tampan, Bukit Jawa at Kampung Gelok and Kampung Temelong.

The most famous archaeological finding in Lenggong is Perak Man, the 11,000-year-old human skeletal remains discovered in 1991. The Lenggong Archaeological Museum at Kota Tampan is a trove of prehistoric Malaya .

While the stone age of Lenggong has been well documented and said to go back 200,000 years, the recent tool finds are startling in their age.

“I took back the axe to USM and sent it through a CT scan. It read 1.7 to 1.8 million years old,” says Mokhtar, holding up a suevite rock in the oil palm plantation, his quiet voice loud in verdant ground on a Sunday morning.

“We then sent it for fission track dating by the Geochronology Laboratory in Tokyo, which put it down to about 1.83 ± 0.61 million years old.

“That makes the tools here the oldest in the world to date. The ones in Africa — the oldest stone hand axe — is 1.5 million years old.” Sometime last year, Mokhtar found several fragments of bone, including a long bone and a finger, embedded in a suevite rock. The pieces have been sent for scientific testing.

“The process is very slow, and I’m not sure when the results will come out.” Since those finds, the National Heritage Department has sent the findings to Unesco for review in February, and Mokhtar says Unesco will send a team to Lenggong Valley in July for authenticity inspection and checking of data accuracy.

“After that, they will compile a conclusion result and hopefully make anofficial announcement at the Unesco general meeting in July next year to declare Lenggong Valley a World Heritage Site.

Mokhtar would like the area to become a “Suevite Park”. This will whet interest in archeological tourism, but it also takes “vision and money”, he adds.

USM will hold an international archeological conference on the Bukit Bunuh findings in November.

“I was here (in Bukit Bunuh) in 1987 and 1989. The area was a rubber plantation, then. It was turned into an oil palm plantation in 2001, and the workers started to terrace the hills...

t h at ’s when the stones started coming up.” After checking with a fellow professor, a meteor theory was reached.

On checking the area, the theory was right.

He tells us a meteor struck the area, which used to be part of Raban Lake, near Kuala Kangsar, about that time.

“Lenggong Valley was all under Raban Lake then. When the meteor hit, it changed the course of Perak river.” The area under excavation is about 400 sq km. Mokhtar and his team started excavations from 2001, and unearthed a Palaeolithic culture.

The suevite tools are found in rocks formed in and around impact craters.

These rocks are recorded to exist in Europe so far, specifically Germany.

There have been reports of similar craters in Langkawi, and the border between Terengganu and Pahang.

Mokhtar points out the ridges of the crater, which is about four kilometres in diameter, and totally covered by oil palm trees.

To the untrained eye, you wouldn’t know such a crater was there or even see tools embedded in rock.

Mokhtar laments the lack of young help, in his team of less than 15 trained people. “You need geologists, but the ones who studied geology have gone into the oil and gas field.” The CGAR team is also behind the new discoveries in the Lembah Bujang area in Sungei Petani.

“The main criteria for the paleolithic people to settle anywhere is food and water. This old lake must have been ideal. They needed river gravel to make stone tools.

“The people who were making these tools, they had the hands-on technology. They knew how to choose which rock, to make what tool. They designed the tools. These people had the knowledge then, 1.83 million years ago,” he muses.

“The distance from here to Africa is 1,800km. Maybe they came from Africa. That’s the out-of-Africa theory of homo erectus.

“Then there is the multiregional theory, where different regions had their own human evolution.” Based on world evidence, some of the oldest hominin homo erectus remains, including tools and teeth, were found in Jawa, Indonesia (1.7 to 1.2 million years ago), Dmanisi, Georgia (1.8-1.7 million years), Longgupo, China (1.8-1.6 million years), and Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania (1.8 million years).

He says there is new evidence which gives rise to the possibility that the hominids in Jawa could have come from Bukit Bunuh because of the impact of the meteor. “I think the paleolithic people in Bukit Bunuh —maybe about 1,000 of them lived here — are a new species of modern humans, homo sapiens.

“We know now that the Lenggong Valley was inhabited from time to time for more than 1.83 million years. We have the oldest prehistoric settlement in the world after Africa, according to chronometric dating.”

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