sign in a cave in Laos

18 January 2009

Lenggong archaeology - Berita Shell 1996

From Berita Shell , Feb-May 1996

Gomantong Caves - Malayan Naturalist

My article in the Malayan Naturalist, 1996

Dredging up the past - Malaysian Naturalist

Dredging up the past
from Malaysian Naturalist 2001 55(2)

17 January 2009

Cave archaeology - The Expat 2005

Cave Archaeology in The Expat, March 2005

Adventure caving in the Kinta Valley, Heritage News

Article on caving in Kinta Valley, Perak, in Heritage News of the Perak Heritage Society, Vol 5, No 4-5, 2008 .

Persuit of Passion, Clove (Star) 2008

Article in Clove , Star , Nov 2008

Tambun & Naga Mas - Ipoh Echo

An article I wrote on Gua Tambun and Gua Naga Mas in Ipoh Echo , Jan 16-31, No 66, p11

Six Mile Tunnel - letter Ipoh Echo

Letter in Ipoh Echo No 66, p10, Jan 16-31 2009 about Six Mile Tunnel, Perak.

11 January 2009

Gua Tambun and Naga Mas - BT

Published on The Brunei Times (

Rock art in Perak's limestone caves

Natural relics: The Tambun cliffs; entrance to Naga Mas cave; ancient cave drawing of the Tambun 'dugong'. The Kinta Valley is an important heritage site for Malaysia. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, January 11, 2009

THE state of Perak in central Malaysia has some important cultural and natural relics. The cultural antiquities are seen in the form of rock paintings, the natural ones are the fossil bones of a big cat. These two sites are an important part of Perak's heritage, but nothing is done to protect either site.

The Perak Heritage Society recently held an outing to these locations, to get interested people together in the hope that something can be done to preserve these places. On my earlier visits to both sites, I had found the access steps to be very overgrown. So it was a pleasant surprise on this trip to find that the staircases to both places had been very recently cleared. There was even a new gravel path leading to the Tambun staircase, so we were able to avoid all the muddy and swampy land. Presumably some official entourage had been here very recently.

The ancient rock paintings are found on a limestone cliff at Tambun, east of the city of Ipoh. These paintings were discovered in 1959 by Lt Rawlings and at the time were the only known coloured paintings in Malaya. They differ from the more recent charcoal drawings made by the "Orang Asli".

Rawlings found a wide ledge about 30m above the valley floor. The limestone cliff towers above this ledge and it was on the rock face that he noticed the paintings. The pictures depict men and animals, and were reported then to be in colours of dark purple and dull red. However today, due to exposure to the elements, such as wind, rain and sun, the reds have faded and become more orange in colour. The paintings are estimated to be around 2,000 years old. Some of the animals are easily identified, such as a civet, deer, wild boar and a "tapir". There is also a prominent painting that looks like a "dugong", although others suggest it could be a giant catfish.

There are not many pictures of people, although one man is shown with long genitalia. Other shapes are not really understood, one could be a bunch of bananas. It is not known for sure the medium used to create these paintings. It was originally assumed to be hematite, which is found in the area, but now the suggestions leads towards natural pigments from fat, blood or iron oxide. As the paintings are all much higher than the present day floor level, it is not known how ancient man was able to reach so high up on the cliff. In Australia it is thought that the Aborigines built scaffolding to do their rock art.

The Tambun paintings do show that humans were living in the Kinta Valley during this period. They may have been farmers rather than hunters and gatherers and it is thought that the animals they drew were the ones they saw and probably ate.

From ancient paintings we turned our attention to some fossil bones. Gua Naga Mas, south of the city of Ipoh, is a cave situated in a small limestone hill. In 1992 some people from the Malaysian Nature Society were visiting the cave and noticed some bones in the ceiling.

The vertebrate bones are about five metres above the floor and are embedded in travertine. Further studies revealed that they are probably the remains of a large cat, such as a tiger or leopard. These observations were made on the shape and size of the bones, and a lower premolar tooth was recognised as belonging to a big cat. The skeleton is about 98cm long, and although it is not easy for the layman to clearly make out the bones, the scientists have been able to identify each of the parts. A rough estimate suggests they are 10,000 years old.

Since the discovery more than 15 years ago, no detailed studies have been made on the bones, and the identity and age are still not known for sure. It is the only such fossil known in Malaysian caves.

The vertebrate bones and rock paintings are both unique parts of Perak's prehistory, and hopefully they will last for the eons to come.

The Brunei Times

9 January 2009

Gua Tambun scaffolding aka Noel's erection

I went up to Ipoh to see Noel's erection. I knew he has a very big one, and it's likely to last a week or even longer if he can maintain of course I just had to see it, as it is probably a once in a lifetime occurance. But due to safety reasons, no one was allowed to mount it unless authorised by him. It was certainly an impressive sight.

And in case you are wondering, I am talking about the scaffolding at Gua Tambun. Noel Hidalgo Tan, an archaeologist from Singapore, is doing his PhD at USM Penang, on rock art in Malaysia and is currently documenting the rock paintings at Gua Tambun in Perak.

The paintings were found in 1959 but still have not really been researched or documented. And nothing has been done to protect them. Being on a cliff face, they are exposed to the elements such as sun, rain, wind and other environmental damage. Fortunately the paintings are quite high from the ground, so can't be reached by people, hence the need for the large 30' erection !

The team have made some new discoveries but are not allowed to reveal anything until the official results are published. It is an exciting time for Malaysia's prehistory.

Locking the site. The scaffolding was made secure to stop unwanted visitors when no one was working at the site.

A semi-feral family of dogs is living on the cliff. Mum recently gave birth and there are 8 small pups. She must have a hard time looking after them and finding enough food for herself.

I later returned to Tambun in Aug 2009 when Noel was doing some data recordings on an overnight trip .

Update -
The team made some new discoveries which is an exciting time for Malaysia's prehistory. They recorded a count of just over 500 distinct rock art elements.
My article was published in Brunei Times .

Gua Tambun register number Prk 25/01.


© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

5 January 2009

Ipoh road drive - Expat motoring guide

Published in the Expat Motoring Guide Oct 2004