The Lenggong Valley has justifiably been given World Heritage status
IF independent Malaya were a civil servant, it would be just a few years short of retirement come Aug 31 when it turns 55. By human standards, that can be counted as a fair number of years lived. On the other hand, as a democratic nation given independence in the post-colonial era, it is very young. But beyond the studies in modern history the right side of the Common Era, which chronicles when the first colonists and Islam came to the peninsula, the settlement of this land is ancient -- going beyond the formulation of the federation and beyond independence, to a time when the name "Malaya" was not even a glimmer in its ancestors' eyes.
For in truth, through findings at the Lenggong Archaeological Valley in Perak, we have the oldest prehistoric settlement in the world after Africa, according to chronometric dating. In fact, stone tool artefacts found at Bukit Bunuh have been carbon-dated as being 1.8 million years old -- the oldest in the world to date (the oldest stone hand axe found in Africa is only 1.5 million years old). Thought to have served as a prehistoric migration route from Africa to Australia, the valley is home to a number of prehistoric archaeological sites, and is the location of the oldest known place of human activity in the peninsula. The most exciting finding so far was made in 1991, when a team from the Universiti Sains Malaysia Centre for Archaeological Research found the skeleton of a paleolithic male at Gua Gunung Runtuh. Dubbed "Perak Man", it is the most complete skeleton ever found in Southeast Asia. Though he was 45 when he died (a ripe old age in those days), carbon-dating established him to have lived about 11,000 years ago.
It is little wonder, therefore, that this marker of ancient Stone Age civilisation has been recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as having international value, and the Archaeological Heritage of Lenggong Valley was listed as a World Heritage site last week -- after Gunung Mulu National Park, Kinabalu Park, and the cities of George Town and Malacca. Sites have to undergo a strict verification procedure before being granted listing. Once listed, it is legally protected by the Law of War under the Geneva Convention, which prohibits any act of hostility against the site. And though Malaysia will maintain sovereignty over the valley, the international community has an interest in preserving it, so any threat to the site has to be reported to the World Heritage committee. With such great honour comes even greater responsibility.