KUCHING: Ancient human skeletons, discovered in Niah Caves, Miri and believed to be more than 40,000 years old, will return to Sarawak on March 1 from University of Florida, United States.
Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said he and ten other delegates from his ministry, Sarawak government, Sarawak Museum Department and Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), would be heading to Florida on Feb 21 with the mission of bringing back the 122 human bones found in the caves.
“We will be going to Florida for a week. Our purpose of going there is to bring back the bones of our ancestors that had been excavated in the Niah Caves and sent to America in the 1960s for scientific research purposes,” he told New Sarawak Tribune in a special interview at the new Sarawak Museum Complex yesterday.
Karim said there would be a grand homecoming for the human skeletons and experts involved in the archaeological excavation from University of Nevada and University of Florida would also be coming to Kuching on the same day.
“The significance of bringing back this collection is that these bones have long left us. They are our great, great ancestors, and looking at the timeline of the existence of humankind in the Niah Caves, no one can stake a claim that the bones belong to the Orang Ulu, Melanau, Iban or Melayu,” he said.
The skeletons were found by Sarawak Museum’s first curator Tom Harrisson at the west entrance of the cave when he did the excavation works between 1957 and 1967.
“Back then, Sarawak did not have any university and research facilities, so it was agreed that the bones should be sent to the University of Nevada to conduct further research on a ‘loan’ basis.
“The University of Florida specialises in documentation, conservation and management of historic findings, which is why the bones were later sent there,” explained Karim.
He said the bones were part of Sarawak and Borneo Nusantara’s rich history and heritage.
“In Pulau Java, there is the first man in Southeast Asia called the Java man, Perak also got its Perak man, and here we have Niah man,” he said.
Karim pointed out all these discoveries had created a lot of interest among archaeologists and history lovers.
“These findings will position Sarawak on the world map and definitely spur greater interest among those who want to conduct more research on Niah Cave,” he said.