ALOR STAR: Expedite the world heritage listing application for the Sungai Batu Archaeological Complex to realise its economic potential, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) economic scholar Professor Datuk Dr Amir Hussin Baharuddin told the National Heritage Department.
The site, which is part of the Kedah Tua Civilisation, has been recognised as the oldest site of human civilisation in Southeast Asia.
Amir described Sungai Batu as a new gem for the heritage tourism sector.
He said it had the potential to become a global tourism magnet, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia, which were listed as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) World Heritage sites.
“I think the government should expedite the listing application to realise its economic potential in heritage tourism.
“With the right investment and approaches by the government, Sungai Batu should emerge as an international heritage tourism attraction in the region.”
The UUM School of Economics, Finance and Banking senior lecturer said Sungai Batu was not the only attraction in Merbok as there were also the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum and Gunung Jerai.
“We are not just talking about economic spillover from the tourism heritage sector to the state and the country. We are also talking about highlighting the Kedah Tua Civilisation, which existed more than 2,000 years ago, as the oldest in Southeast Asia.
“We should be proud that Kedah was the region’s seaport between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, as traders from India came here to buy iron ore.
“Artefacts found at the site showed that Indian traders had been sailing to this region way before the arrival of Portuguese explorers Alfonso de Albuquerque and Ferdinand Magellan.”
He said the listing would push historians to revisit theories so that the Kedah Tua Civilisation could be recognised as one the world’s oldest civilisations, even older than ancient Rome and Greece civilisations.
Amir said the Unesco listing would provide opportunities to secure funding for excavation and to build more infrastructure at the site.
“The government will have to invest to get things moving and the country will reap huge benefits in the long run.”
He said besides industrialisation, the state should not overlook the potential of heritage tourism.
Citing an example, he said, in the mid-1970s, people had focused more on the manufacturing sector in Melaka to develop the state as not many saw the potential of its heritage.
“It was only after Melaka began promoting its historical sites that heritage tourism became the key contributor to the state’s development.”
Amir was commenting on Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Global Archaeology Research Centre (GARC) director Professor Datuk Mokhtar Saidin’s statement that the Sungai Batu Archaeological Complex in Merbok was ready to be listed as a world heritage site.
Mokhtar recently said Sungai Batu had met all the criteria needed to support its application
to join Unesco’s world heritage list.
However, he was reported as saying that it was up to the National Heritage Department to initiate the application process as GARC had prepared research data to support the move.
Last year, five world-renowned archaeologists confirmed that the site in the Bujang Valley was more than 2,000 years old, even older than Angkor Wat and the Borobudur Temple.
The complex has its own advanced iron smelting sites, a town and a seaport.