Lenggong Valley Archaeological Trail

Text and photography by Lau Sook Mei

On 9 July, while parts of KL were gripped by Bersih 2.0 protests, eighteen PHS Committee Members and friends were checking out the Lenggong Valley; the trip had been planned way ahead. Our friends represented Jabatan Warisan Negara (JWN), Northern Corridor Implementation Authority and non-governmental organizations (NGOs): Badan Warisan Malaysia, KL, Taiping Heritage Society, Taiping Tourists Association, Malaysian Karst Society and Malaysian Nature Society. Our special guide was Encik Hamid Isa from the Centre for Global Archaeological Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). PHS, the organizing NGO was represented by our President, Mohd Taib, Hong, Eddie, myself and our videographer friend, Tim Doughty.

Lenggong Archaeological Museum.

That morning, we assembled outside the Lenggong Archaeological Museum. Traveling in a convoy of cars, we drove to breakfast in the quaint rural town of Lenggong. A good breakfast was in order, it would be an energy-zapping climb. Just beyond the town, we turned into Kampung Gelok. We parked near the edge of the village, and from here, we were only an hour away or less to where the “Perak Man” was found in Gua Gunung Runtuh. Prepared as we were, the trek was something else.

Main street of Lenggong town. Note the wooden double-storey shophouses.

Soon we left the village behind, and right ahead of us was the largest limestone massif in Lenggong Valley, the Bukit Kepala Gajah (Elephant’s Head Hill), where Gua Gunung Runtuh sits.

Heading for Bukit Kepala Gajah.

Over-grown, the trek made tough progress. Overnight rain had made the trail slippery. We had to catch our breath at short intervals, and to check for leeches. Some of us harboured regrets but all too soon, we came to look up to the cliffs. Some bounded up the moss-covered rocks; the others made their way gingerly, mindful of loose, slippery rocks. For me, the last stretch was sheer hell!

Taking a break.

We made it to the cave, drenched in sweat but heaving with relief. Standing at the resting place of the Perak Man, we forgot about the tough ascent or the descent to come. Under the canopy of trees, Encik Hamid briefed us on this “star” of the Lenggong Valley.

Encik Hamid handling questions with aplomb.

Aged 45 at the time of his death, the “Perak Man” stood at 154cm. He was discovered in 1991 by Emeritus Professor Dr Zuraina Majid and her team from USM, which included the knowledgeable Hamid. Carbon-dated to about 11,000-year-old, the skeleton from the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age period (2 million to 10,000 years ago) was the most complete one ever found in Southeast Asia. It is also the only prehistoric human skeleton in the world identified with a congenital deformity known as Brachemesophalangia Type 2A. He would have been an important person – he was given a ceremonial burial, buried with animal meats, stone tools and river shells.

Encik Hamid showing us the position of the skeleton of the Perak Man.

How did the skeleton survive so well in the humid tropics? Encik Hamid explained that the cave had relatively low humidity and a constant temperature of 24 oC – that would have helped preservation.

What made the USM team excavate in the cave? A sizeable number of stone-tools found in Kota Tampan suggested a large number of dwellers in the area. Caves were perfect shelters offering protection from wild beasts and the elements. A check on this cave uncovered thousands of shells and stone tools. Further excavations produced the “Perak Man”.

Museum exhibit: the Perak Man, a replica.

“It was a very challenging climb,” intimated Intan Syaheedan of Badan Warisan, as we headed back to the Lenggong Museum for lunch, hosted by JWN. Among the delicious kampong fare was the local specialty, pekasam, deep-fried fermented fish; it went very well with rice. After lunch, Encik Barhaman guided us through the museum exhibits. The Lenggong Archaeological Museum opened as Kota Tampan Archaeological Museum in 2003. It is a treasure trove built on a Paleolithic site which existed in 31,000 BCE. Excavations in Kota Tampan had also uncovered a stone tool workshop dating back 70,000 years. Having seen the cave, the artifacts extended our memory of the site.

Museum exhibit: stone tools found in the Lenggong Valley.

After the museum tour, we had time for one more trail: an easy walk from the kampung through lush tropical scene foot-printed by rummaging wild-boars. We came to the dig at Gua Teluk Kelawar (Bat Cave), on another side of Bukit Kepala Gajah. Open trenches marked the place – like scenes out of Indiana Jones. The site was cool, so relaxing that some of us took a quick nap on the benches under the pondok while others paced along-side the digs in wonder. The site covers the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic periods, 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. In 2004, the USM team found an 8,000 year old skeleton of a woman, who became known as the “Perak Woman”, stone tools and pottery, as well as remains of food – animals and fish. Thus we saw the sites of the Perak Man and the Perak Woman, with a time-gap of some 3000 years between them. Then, it was call to tea at the museum.

The dig at Gua Teluk Kelawar.

Re-charged, we had an interactive session to share our experiences, identify problems on the trail and discuss ways to overcome them. Everyone was bubbling with interesting ideas. We pondered on the effect of the UNESCO listing on development of the area and what benefits it would bring to the local communities. One idea was to train local young people to become guides on these treks.

The participants.

The Lenggong Archaeological Trail was hosted by Jabatan Warisan Negara (JWN), Perak Branch, with the cooperation of Lenggong Archaeological Museum and the USM. It was an education for the participants, who had come in support of the nomination of Lenggong Valley to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The PHS is organizing another archaeological trail to Lenggong soon. Look out for it in this blog.

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5 Responses to “Lenggong Valley Archaeological Trail”


  1. 1 CK CHAN August 13, 2011 at 1:13 am

    As Malaysians, we should all be proud of the Perak Man, being the earliest inhabitant of this country.

    • 2 Papan Jones September 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      Yes, we should be proud of the find and the fact that the Jabatan Warisan Negara has nominated Lenggong Valley for UNESCO World Archaeological Site. This month, the investigators from UNESCO will come to study JWN’s qualifications: its universal value and the state of its preservation; the commitment by government, local community and stakeholders to conserve the environment and the setting for education. We should all appreciate the Site, enjoy and learn from it.

      However, the Perak Man does not represent the earliest inhabitant of this country. The Perak Man is the oldest most complete skeleton found in Southeast Asia. However, a recent find in Terengganu has dated an older human remains, but we have no details, nor the completeness of this skeleton.

      Stay tuned for more news!

  2. 3 Yeo Hock Yew August 16, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Dear Sook Mei,

    Thank you for your report of that visit to such an important pre-historic site. When do you expect UNESCO to decide on the World Heritage status award for the Lenggong Valley?

    How do members of the public get to visit the site? Do we have to await the next PHS-organised trip? Any idea when that would be? Is Taiping the nearest large town to Kota Tampan? Are there bus services between Taiping and Kota Tampan?

    Thank you and best wishes

    Hock Yew
    (Singapore)

  3. 4 perakheritage August 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Dear Hock Yew,

    Lenggong Valley is globally important as a pre-historic site. A recently discovered hand-axe in Bukit Bunuh here was dated to 1.83 million years ago which proved that the valley was inhabited much, much earlier than what was initially thought. Tentatively UNESCO will meet in May 2012 to decide whether Lenggong Valley will be awarded the prestigious status. Perak’s tourism sector very much banks on it as 2012 is also Visit Perak Year.

    The nearest large town is Kuala Kangsar which is not too far away. Not too sure whether there are any bus services to Lenggong but don’t think there is any to Kota Tampan. At least not to the museum.

    To get to the site you need to liaise with the museum staff for a recommendation of a local guide. It’s safer to have a guide with you. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for our trail. The dates are not confirmed yet so please watch out for it in the blog. Hope that you can be part of it.

    Best wishes,
    Sook Mei

  4. 5 Papan Jones October 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    To Hock Yew’s question:

    It seems that the site has been tentatively listed as nominated.

    Getting a site inscribed by UNESCO is no simple act. Following the nomination, the UNESCO team has surveyed the site in September. A report will follow. Normally, pluses and minuses will be highlighted. Efforts will have to be made to rectify deficiencies and shortcomings. Next year, if it is deemed worthy, UNESCO will re-visit and report its findings again.

    It took Melaka and George Town 12 years to get inscribed as Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca. It may take many more years before Lenggong gets inscribed as a World Archaeological Site. To me, the local and the state authorities and the communities in Lenggong need to pull together for the listing to succeed. We shall see, won’t we?


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