Humans lived in Niah Caves 100,000 years ago

MIRI: The discovery of ancient remains in Traders’ Cave at the Niah Caves complex has revealed the existence of human habitation there more than 100,000 years ago.

Associate professor Dr Darren Curnoe of University of New South Wales said that he and his team uncovered fossil bones and food leftovers during their archaeological excavations in the cave which lasted over three months.

“We’ve basically doubled the span of history that has been revealed in Niah Caves,” he stated, explaining that the earliest artifacts found in other parts of the cave previously had only gone as far back as 50,000 years.

He said this in an interview during a site visit to Niah Caves yesterday as part of an International Conference on Archaeology (ICA) 2019 held here.

“From that square there, we found oyster shells and fossil bones that are, in fact, more than 109,000 years old,” disclosed Dr Darren, pointing at one of the segments of his excavation site in Traders’ Cave, one of the caves in the Niah Caves complex.

According to him, the unearthed shells indicate that these prehistoric cave dwellers had been hunting in the landscape, gathering shellfish, and returning to the cave to cook, prepare and consume their food.

“We will do another two to three years of fieldwork and excavations here at Traders’ Cave. We really want to explore the much older deposits. So far, a lot of the finds are 30,000 to 50,000 years old,” he said.

Dr Darren remarked that his team would like to focus on digging through the layers that are more than 100,000 years old.

“Of course, there is always the hope that we might find another ‘Deep Skull’ — more human remains,” he said optimistically.

The ‘Deep Skull’ is a 40,000-year-old human skull discovered by Tom and Barbara Harrisson on February 7, 1958 at the West Mouth of Niah Caves — the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia.

Thus far, the associate professor stated that his team had dug about 20 square metres, pulling about 20,000 kg of sediment out of the ground.

“Over the next three years, we will probably we doubling or even tripling that.

“And in about four or five squares, so about five or six square metres, we are going to try to dig right to the cave floor to see how old the cave is,” elaborated Dr Darren.

He said that his team plans to have two field seasons at Traders Cave next year, one in January and February, and the other in August and September. “Both of those seasons together will add up to about eight weeks.”

Though archaeological excavations have been carried out in several other parts of Niah Caves, Dr Darren believes that his team has pioneered proper excavations in Traders Cave particularly.

Dr Darren (inside pit) explains on the archaeological works carried out at Traders Cave. Photo: Nadim Bokhari