Niah National Park
The main entrance to the Niah Caves at sunset
Niah National Park, located within Miri Division, Sarawak, Malaysia, is the site of the Niah Caves limestone cave and archeological site. Niah National Park was 31.4 km² when it was gazetted in 1974. Nomination for World Heritage status of the Niah Caves was sent to UNESCO in 2010.
The caves are thought to have been visited by Europeans in search of minerals, perhaps in the late 1840s, but no documentation is known. Alfred Russel Wallace is said to have learned about the caves during his 1855 expedition to (then much smaller) Sarawak: if so it was from his host at the Simunjan coal mine, Robert Coulson, who had worked in Labuan and explored its adjacent areas. Wallace subsequently recommended to Charles Darwin and the Royal Society that Coulson be appointed to explore the caves of Borneo as a potential site for discovering important hominid fossils; however, Alfred Hart Everett was chosen.
Since then local universities and foreign scientists have continued the archaeological research, and many articles have been published in the Sarawak Museum Journal. The site has been re-excavated (1999–2003+) by The Niah Caves Project (NCP), a joint British-Malaysian expedition, to determine the accuracy of Harrisson's work.
The main cave, Niah Great Cave, is located in Gunung Subis and is made up of several voluminous chambers with high ceilings. The Great Cave lies in a large limestone block, about a kilometre long in general north to south direction and about half a kilometre wide, that is detached from the main Gunung Subis complex, by a valley between about 150 to 200 meters wide. The main Gunung Subis complex rises to about 394 meters above sea level at its highest point. The whole "Gunung Subis Limestone Complex" lies some 17 kilometres inland from the South China Sea coast, near the town of Batu Niah and about 65 kilometres south west of the town Miri. It is roughly heart shaped measuring five kilometres from its northern tip to the south and four kilometres across. The Gunung Subis is surrounded by a low countryside with gentle hills from which the small limestone massif and its smaller detached blocks rise rather abruptly out of the jungle, some with cliffs over 100 metres high. Though it is not an extensive cave system compared to others in Sarawak, it has been estimated to cover some 10 hectares and the roof rises to about 75 metres above the cave floor in some places. In geological terms, the limestones are part of the Subis Formation. This is dated to some 20 to 16 million years ago during the Early Miocene.
The caves have been used by humans at different times ranging from the prehistory to neolithic, Chinese Sung-Era and more recent times.The Sarawak Museum began systematic archaeological work in the caves since 1954.
The cave is an important prehistorical site where human remains dating to 40,000 years have been found. This is the oldest recorded human settlement in east Malaysia. More recent studies published in 2006 have shown evidence of the first human activity at the Niah caves from ca. 46,000 to ca. 34,000 years ago. Painted Cave, situated in a much smaller limestone block of its own, some 150 metres from the Great Cave block's south eastern tip, has rock paintings dated as 1,200 years old. Archeologists have claimed a much earlier date for stone tools found in the Mansuli valley, near Lahad Datu in Sabah, but precise dating analysis has not yet been published.
Items found at Niah Cave include Pleistocene chopping tools and flakes, Neolithic axes, adzes, pottery, shell jewellery, boats, mats, then iron tools and ceramics and glass beads dating to the Iron Age. The most famous find is the human skull dated at around 38,000 years BCE. Painted Cave has paintings and wooden coffin 'death ships'.
The caves are also well known for the birds' nest (Swiftlet) industry. They are a popular tourist destination in Sarawak. Every section of the ceiling in the caves where there are birds roosting is privately owned and only the owner has the right to collect the nests. Collection is done half-yearly (usually in January and in June). The collector climbs up hundreds of feet on a single pole to the cave ceiling and scrapes off the nest in flickering candlelight.
- Niah National Park from Sarawak Forestry
- Harrisson, Tom (1957). "The Great Cave of Niah: A Preliminary Report on Bornean Prehistory". Man. 57: 161–166.
- Reynolds, Tim; et al. (2015). "Reconstructing Late Pleistocene Climates, Landscapes, and Human Activities in Northern Borneo from Excavations in the Niah Caves". In Kaifu, Yousuke; et al. Emergence and Diversity of Modern Human Behavior in Paleolithic Asia. Texas A&M University Press.
- The Niah Cave Project at the University of Leicester.
- Niah National Park at Geographia.
- Short description for a cd-rom about the caves by Ecomedia Software
- "The Great Cave of Niah" by Huw Barton
- Barker, Graeme; et al. (2007). "The 'human revolution' in lowland tropical Southeast Asia: the antiquity and behavior of anatomically modern humans at Niah Cave (Sarawak, Borneo)". Journal of Human Evolution. 52 (3): 243–261. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.08.011. PMID 17161859. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
- Fong, Durie Rainer (10 April 2012). "Archaeologists hit 'gold' at Mansuli". The Star. Archived from the original on 12 April 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
- Kennedy, Kenneth A. R., "The Deep Skull of Niah: an Assessment of Twenty Years of Speculation Concerning its Evolutionary Significance", Asian Perspectives, XX(I), 1977
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- Tourism Malaysia - Niah National Park
- A short description of the caves as a touristic destination.
- Summary of the article "A short history of birds' nests management in the Niah caves (Sarawak)." by Quentin Gausset from the "Borneo Research Bulletin" published in 2002.
- Another version from the Sarawak Forestry with a map of the caves[permanent dead link]
- Article with a picture of some paintings and death ships.
- Picture of some cave paintings.