sign in a cave in Laos

23 August 2008

Perak Man exhibition KL 2006 - Star

L I F E S T Y L E Focus
Saturday August 19, 2006

[Also stolen and published on AsiaValley Holidays ]

Going back in time

Story and pictures by LIZ PRICE

Malaysia’s oldest inhabitant, Perak Man, is back in Kuala Lumpur. A special exhibition is being dedicated to him at the National Museum as part of the Festival Kuala Lumpur 2006.

Perak Man is an 11,000-year-old human skeleton which was found in Gua Gunung Runtuh in Lenggong, Perak in May 1990. It is the only complete late Paleolithic skeleton to have been found and is an important piece of Malaysia’s prehistory.

The month-long exhibition is designed to be informative in an entertaining way and it certainly works. As you enter the building, which is constructed to represent the mouth of Gua Gunung Runtuh, you are greeted by an animated talking skeleton.

The Perak Man exhibition is on again in Kuala Lumpur at the National Museum, until Aug 31.

Walking through a dark passage, you go past a series of exhibits and tableaux depicting scenes from 10,000 years ago. The first one shows Perak Man on his death bed, surrounded by friends or relatives. Research shows he died from a severe tooth infection. I saw the skeletons move, some of which had flashing red eyes. It’s great for the kids.

Perak Man suffered from a rare congenital deformity but living amongst a close-knit community meant he had people to care for him when he could no longer hunt or look after himself. He was only in his 40s when he died, which was probably a good age for that era.

Perak Man has been dated at 10,000 to11,000 years old. However, evidence of human activity in the Lenggong Valley dates back more than 100,000 years. This area could well have been the capital of Malaysia in those days.

The next scene shows the burial rites. It is suggested that Perak Man was an important member of his tribe as his burial was performed ceremonially. He was buried in a fetal position, with legs folded up to the chest, the right hand bent up towards the shoulder and the left hand on the abdomen. The body was placed in a one metre-deep grave perpendicular to the cave entrance.

For the researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia, led by Prof Datuk Zuraina Majid, it was a dream come true that the Paleolithic burial was done so meticulously and was well-preserved. The skeleton was almost complete, except for some missing bones.

Offerings of food such as meat and riverine shells were found with the body, as well as 10 different types of tools. The tools could have been Perak Man’s own collection. As a final touch, 2,878 shells were placed on and around the body.

There is a slide show in Bahasa Malaysia giving a brief outline of the discovery and showing the types of food eaten in those days.

Perak Man and his relatives were hunter gatherers. They hunted wild animals like wild boar, deer, mousedeer, leopard, monkeys, iguanas and tortoise.

To supplement their meat diet, they gathered plants and riverine shells for food and medicine.

A re-enactment of Perak Man’s burial.

They used stone tools for their daily activities. Pebble tools were used for heavy duty work such as chopping trees, splitting bones and snipping the tips off shells. Flake tools were used to cut and scrape meat, and to sharpen wood and bone to make new tools. There is a display of stone tools and models of how they were used.

Further along is a selection of push button displays, but unfortunately, the buttons were not working.

The next section is devoted to research. There was analysis on the faunal remains, which gives some information on the animals eaten, the hunting skills, as well as the climate and environment.

Perak Man was exhibited in Japan from Sept 7 to Nov 24, 1996. A display case houses a replica of Perak Man’s skeleton, the original is housed at the Lenggong Museum.

As you turn the corner, you are invited to insert a card into a slot. At first nothing happens, then there is a rumbling sound and suddenly a motorbike driven by two skeletons heads towards you, with a background scene of modern KL. I’ve never seen so many mechanical talking skeletons outside of a fairground!

The last section houses half a dozen computers on which you can answer 20 questions relating to Perak Man. The computers, as well all the film clips are only in Bahasa Malaysia, so the exhibition seems to be designed more for locals than for foreigners.

USM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dzulkifli Abdul Razak and Prof Datuk Zuraina Majid with the book Perak Man and Other Prehistoric Skeletons of Malaysia

Finally, there is a feature on a new book entitled Perak Man and Other Prehistoric Skeletons of Malaysia, edited by Zuraina. The book is available for sale.

This exhibition is great for anyone interested in Malaysia’s prehistory and is guaranteed to grab the attention of kids with the animated skeletons and detailed tableaux. The exhibition ends on Aug 31. W

The exhibition is housed in the National Museum annexe. Opening hours are from 9am-6pm daily. Admission is free, but there is a parking fee of RM2.

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