KUCHING: Over 100 human remains from Niah Cave which are currently “on loan” in the United States will be returned to Sarawak by March this year.
Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said that the ancient bones would be put on display at the new Sarawak Museum Complex which was expected to open to the public this year-end.
“Next month, I will go to Florida to bring back the bones that were excavated from the Niah Cave.
“There will be a grand homecoming to honour the return of the remains which were believed to have existed since 40,000 years ago,” he said.
Karim revealed this when speaking at the 5th Annual Ponggal Harvest Festival held at the Kuching Waterfront yesterday.
The minister shared that the remains were found at the west entrance of the Niah Cave by the Sarawak Museum Curator Tom Harisson during excavation works in the cave between 1947 and 1967.
“At that time, Sarawak did not have a research centre or university for research so the human bones were taken to the University of Nevada in the United States for research purposes.
“Later, the university sent the ancient bones to the University of Florida for temporary safekeeping, research and consolidation purposes,” he said.
Karim added that according to a record in the archive, the bones were just on “loan” to the former university.
“Thus, Sarawak has written to the university to get back the collection,” he said.
Karim also mentioned that the discovery had positioned Niah Caves as a key global location in human pre-history.
He said, “Many foreign universities have shown interest in doing further studies.
“In 2017, further excavation work was done by University of the New South Wales which concluded that human inhabited Niah Caves about 65,000 years ago, exceeding the previous estimate of 40,000 years ago.
“The new discovery puts Niah Cave as the oldest archaeological site in Borneo and the oldest site with human remains in Malaysia.
“I believe this will put Sarawak on the tourism map of those who love heritage and nature. Through this, we will be able to promote the state.”