Archive for February, 2009


Scientists meet to save Lascaux cave from fungus (from AP)

By JENNY BARCHFIELD, Associated Press Writer Jenny Barchfield, Associated Press Writer – Thu Feb 26, 4:57 pm ET

PARIS – Geologists, biologists and other scientists convened Thursday in Paris to discuss how to stop the spread of fungus stains — aggravated by global warming — that threaten France’s prehistoric Lascaux cave drawings.

Black stains have spread across the cave’s prehistoric murals of bulls, felines and other images, and scientists have been hard-pressed to halt the fungal creep.

Marc Gaulthier, who heads the Lascaux Caves International Scientific Committee, said the challenges facing the group are vast and global warming now poses an added problem.

“All of Lascaux’s problems have always been linked to the cave’s climatization, meaning the equilibrium of air inside the cave,” Gaulthier told reporters at a news conference before the symposium. Now, rising temperatures have complicated matters by stopping air from circulating inside the caverns, he said.

“It’s stagnating, immobile, frozen” inside the cave, he said.

This makes sending teams of scientists into the affected caverns risky, as their mere presence raises humidity levels and temperatures that could contribute to the growth of the different fungi, algae and bacteria that have attacked the cave over the years, he said.

Other factors behind the stains include the presence of naturally occurring microorganisms and the chemical makeup of the rock that forms the cavern walls, Gaulthier and other scientists at the news conference said.

For the moment, the cave is completely sealed in hopes that “it will heal itself,” Gaulthier said.

Two possible solutions to be examined at the conference include the installation of a system to regulate the cave’s temperature and the use of biocides, which kill the bacteria and have been used in the cave before, with mixed results.

Scientists from as far away as the United States, New Zealand and Japan were scheduled to attend the two-day symposium. The conclusions could also help preserve caves in Japan and Spain.

In 1963, Lascaux, a top tourist destination, was closed to the public after the appearance of green algae and other damage scientists linked to the visitors. A replica of the main Lascaux cavern was built nearby and has become a big tourist draw.

Carbon-dating suggests the murals were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago. Discovered in 1940, the cavern is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


It’s been a long time coming, but this is good news indeed. Prehistoric cave paintings in Malaysia are also in danger of being ruined by fungus. I was at the Painted Cave (also known as Gua Kain Hitam) in Niah, Sarawak over two seasons of excavations in 2007 and 2008, and i have seen those hideous green mold inching up ever closer to the cave paintings.

The prehistoric cave paintings at the Painted Cave in Niah, Sarawak

Prehistoric cave paintings at the Painted Cave in Niah, Sarawak


A tale of two cemeteries

The Jewish cemetery and the Anglican cemetery in Penang are two historical places that should be on every local or foreign tourist must-visit list. The former, established in 1805, is one the few remaining, and public, evidence of a small yet thriving Jewish community in Penang once upon a time (now, how many actually knew about that fact?) The latter, established in 1789, is the resting place of a number of important individuals, including Francis Light, the founder of Penang. But sadly, both places have, over the generations, been neglected and pushed back to a drab and lonely corner that we might call the forgotten part of our history.

Although comparatively, the Jewish cemetery is quite well taken care of (there is an old Indian caretaker  living in the compounds of the cemetery), not many people, even locals, know about the existence of the cemetery. It is not even listed on tourism brochures or guide books like the Lonely Planet.  In contrast, the Anglican cemetery  is quite well known since it houses Francis Light’s grave. However, the state of the cemetery is apalling. Torn fences, moldy graves, unkempt yard and ocassional garbage litters the site. It is ironic to hear and read in the news about heritage-loving people and NGOs protesting over the planned desctructions of old hospitals or some old mansion that once belonged to some rich fellow, while truly historical sites like these (for God’s sake, that Francis dude founded Penang!!! and i’m not sure about my history knowledge but it was perhaps one of  the first instances of British arrival in Malaysia) are neglected and swept under the carpet.

It makes one wonder. Does it have to do with Francis Light being a penjajah (colonizer) and we are supposed to hate the penjajahs and therefore we dont care about their cemeteries? And in the case of the Jewish cemetery, is it because of the prevalent (it’s bloody obvious, you hear it all the time although people are unwilling to criticize it) anti-semitic views among most Malaysians? Case in point, a friend of mine once made a comment about how he would rather die than be the jaga (caretaker) of the Jewish cemetery.

Jewish cemetery

Jewish cemetery

Francis Lights grave

Francis Light's grave


Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia…no longer

Yesterday, the Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia at Universiti Sains Malaysia was renamed the Centre for Global Archaeological Research by the Minister of Higher Education of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Khaled Nordin.

And the good news is, Dato’ Seri Khaled Nordin has announced a funding of RM 10 million for the Centre for Global Archaeological Research.


Out-of-Africa Theory of ancient human migration being challenged by discovery of 1.8 million-year-old hand axe in Malaysia

The discovery of the supposedly 1.8 million-year-old hand axe in Lenggong, Perak (see previous postings in this blog) has generated  a lot of interest among the archaeological circle worldwide. The reason being, if the hand axe is indeed as old as it is claimed to be, then the Out-of Africa ancient human migration model will be seriously put to question.

First and foremost, in order to avoid confusion, the Out-of-Africa theory could be used to refer to two separate ancient human migration. The first one refers to the migration of Homo erectus out of Africa, about 2 million years ago, to populate the rest of the Old World as evidenced by findings of Homo erectus remains in Georgia (1.8 million years ago);  Jawa, Indonesia (1.7 to 1.2 million years ago); as well as Longgupo and Yuanmou in China (1.8 to 1.6 million years ago).

According to the second one, referred to as the Recent Out-of-Africa model, anatomically modern Homo sapiens evolved in Africa, and migrated into Eurasia and the rest of the Old World  about 200,000 years ago, and along the way, completely replaced (without interbreeding) the older human populations.

The Out-of-Africa theory that is being challenged by the recent discovery in Malaysia is specifically the first one. According to Dr. Mokthar Saidin, quoted in a New Strait Times article (“Rewriting Out-of-Africa Theory” 30 Jan, 09),  Homo erectus in Jawa, Indonesia could have migrated from Bukit Bunuh in Lenggong, Perak (Malaysia) as a result of destruction from the impact of meteorites. A model tentatively proposed to challenge the Out-of-Africa model is the Out-of-Southeast Asia model. I don’t buy this completely. Does this new model propose that Homo erectus evolved in Southeast Asia and then migrated to populate the rest of the world? At this time, there is no evidence to support this. Africa, after all, has yielded numerous fossil evidence of “ancestors” of the human species, such as a number of species from the genus Australopithecus, Homo habilis and of course, Homo erectus. Southeast Asia has only produced findings of Homo erectus, and the infamous Homo floresiensis. Also, the Out-of-Africa migration happened earlier than the date of the hand axe found in Lenggong, and based on dates alone, the Out-of-Africa theory still holds. Frankly, there is still not enough evidence to propose a Southeast Asian origin for modern Homo sapiens.

In my opinion, further research needs to be conducted before any conclusions can be made regarding the rewriting of the Out-of-Africa model, as well as to verify the age of the hand axe. At this moment, little is known about the dating methods used to obtained the 1.8 million years ago date of the hand axe.


BBC NEWS | Americas | Artefact finds from ‘dawn of man’

Here is the BBC news video about the recently discovered 1.8 million-year-old hand axe in Malaysia. The so-called “unnamed scientist” (on BBC’s website) in the video is Dr. Mokhtar Saidin, the Director of the Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “BBC NEWS | Americas | Artefact finds …“, posted with vodpod


Latest archaeological discovery in Malaysia

Here’s a start to this blog. Last night, watching BBC news caught me by suprise. It was my first time watching a report on Malaysian archaeology in an international news channel. Perhaps, it might not be the first time that this (Malaysian archaeology in an international news broadcast) ever happened. After all, Malaysia has produced a few significant archaeological discoveries over the years. Two immediately come to mind: the 40,000 year old skull found at Niah Cave, Sarawak and the Perak Man, a 10,000 year old complete skeleton found at Gua Gunung Runtuh, Perak – but either i was not born yet or i was just a brat who knew nothing about archaeology when the discoveries took place.

Anyhow, i have digressed a little. Wondering what the news was about? Well, it’s about a 1.8 million-year-old axe found in Lenggong, Perak. If this is true, then it will bring up new discussions and debates regarding ancient human migration and will put to question the Out-of-Africa human migration theory.

Here’s a news article, dated 30 Jan, 2009 that came out in various newspapers across the globe. I will comment on this particular news article in future posts.

Dr. Mokhtar Saidin holding 1.8 million-year-old hand axe

Dr. Mokhtar Saidin holding 1.8 million-year-old hand axe


by JULIA ZAPPEI, Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysian archeologists have unearthed prehistoric stone axes that they said Friday were the world’s oldest at about 1.8 million years old.

Seven axes were found with other tools at an excavation site in Malaysia’s northern Perak state in June, and tests by a Tokyo laboratory indicate they were about 1.83 million years old, said Mokhtar Saidin, director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Science Malaysia.

The group released their conclusions Thursday, and other archeologists have not yet examined the results.

“It’s really the first time we have such evidence (dating back) 1.83 million years,” Mokhtar said, adding that the oldest axes previously discovered were 1.6 million years old in Africa.

However, other chopping tools, as well as human remains, have been found in Africa that are much older, with some dating back 4 million years, he said.

Geochronology Japan Inc., a lab in Tokyo, calculated the age of the tools by analyzing the rock that covered them, Mokhtar said. The result has a margin of error of 610,000 years, he said.

Some previous discoveries have suggested there were humans in Southeast Asia up to 1.9 million years ago, but those have been disputed, said Harry Truman Simanjuntak, a researcher at the National Research Center of Archaeology in Jakarta.

Simanjuntak cautioned that others still need to investigate claims about the axes’ age.

The oldest previous evidence of human existence in Malaysia was stone tools dating back about 200,000 years, found at the same excavation site in Perak.

The archeologists are trying to find human bone remains in Perak, Mokhtar said, but stressed that it might be unlikely because of decay due to warm, humid climate conditions. The oldest bones found in Perak so far have only been about 10,000 years old.

February 2009
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