The prehistoric human skeleton was found at Guar Kepah Neolithic site on mainland Penang, near Kepala Batas. Pix courtesy of USM.

GEORGE TOWN: A prehistoric human skeleton, thought to be at least 5,000 years old, was uncovered during construction of a gallery for the Guar Kepah Neolithic site near Kepala Batas, on mainland Penang, on Monday.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Global Archaeological Research Centre director Professor Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin said a skull, a femur bone and a rib cage were found beneath the floor of a house which had been recently flattened to make way for the gallery.

He said the bones were found 70cm underground as Public Works Department (PWD) backhoes were digging on Monday.

"This is an important discovery not only for us, but the state, and the nation as a whole. Digging works were immediately stopped following the discovery, and we took over to conduct the excavation.

"We have yet to conduct scientific studies, but we estimate it to be around 5,000 years old. More details, such as how the prehistoric people lived, what they ate and their burial patterns, will be released once we complete the studies," Dr Mokhtar told newsmen at Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's office here, yesterday.

Mokhtar believes they could possibly find three skeletons at the site, but it would take them at least two weeks to excavate even the current findings.

USM's Global Archaeological Research Centre had been conducting excavation works and research at the site back in 2010, where prehistoric shells, pottery remnants, tool remnants and food remnants from the Neolithic period were found, documented and dated.

“With this latest discovery, our research is complete. We have the shells, the food, the hunting tools and now we have the skeleton. So, the gallery will be complete with all these on display,” Dr Mokhtar added.

Guar Kepah, the country's final remaining Stone Age site, features shell middens or mounds that date back more than five millennia.

According to a book by F. David Bulbeck, titled “The Perak Man and Prehistoric Skeletons of Malaysia”, a total of 37 skeletons were excavated from the site after British colonial officer G.W Earl first discovered the shell middens in 1860; dating placed the skeletons at between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.

Back in 2013, Mokhtar had said that the Neolithic period site at Guar Kepah, which is older than the ancient civilisation site of neighbouring Lembah Bujang, had the potential to be a major tourism draw.

The Neolithic era is considered to be the last period of the Stone Age, before the discovery of metal tools led humans into the Bronze Age.

He had said that the site was the only prehistoric evidence of marine adaptation by prehistoric humans living near the sea in Malaysia.

No new human remains were found beyond the 37 skeletons previously unearthed, and taken to the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland.

Meanwhile, Lim announced a RM20,000 allocation for further excavation works.

The Chief Minister also said that the state government is in talks to have the skeletons repatriated from Holland, to be placed in the new Guar Kepah gallery.

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