There are four or five go-to spots in Malaysia that most tourists put on their wish list; Melaka, KL, Penang, Sabah (Borneo) and any of the beautiful tropical islands off Sabah or Northern Malaysia come to mind.
They are all beautiful places to visit and each individual state tourism agency markets their location perfectly, highlighting the area’s offerings.
Who would have guessed that the discovery of a small limestone cave, hidden away in a palm oil plantation near the small kampung at Felda Pasoh 4, could possibly add Negeri Sembilan to that elite list of go-to places?
It all started in 2014 when USM Global Archeology Research Center director Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin received a phone call from Nor Azliny Mohd Ali, owner of Azliny Team Building Outdoor Adventure, a single mum who was running an eco-tourism business in the forest.
“ Azliny called me and said she had found a limestone cave and that there was a good possibility of finding artefacts, but I was a bit sceptical at first,“ he said, “ I had done some geological mapping in the area in 1983-84 and couldn’t find any caves, but I could tell she knew a lot about caves so I asked her to email some pictures.”
Close-up snaps of the interior of the cave, called Gua Pelangi (Rainbow Cave), revealed what looked like stone artefacts lying on the surface, and was all the encouragement needed for the professor to immediately head down to look for himself.
“I came here straight away, (Gua Pelangi) and found a surface find (tool), lots of shells and food remains and could immediately see it was a real limestone cave with enormous potential,” he said.
The professor was able to quickly garner a small budget of RM150,000 for the first phase of the excavation which began with a geophysics scan of the ground surface. The scan indicated there was sediment 3 metres deep that could be excavated.
This would have been deeper but unfortunately over the years villagers had scraped the first metre of guano (bat poo) from the surface to nourish their vegetables, thereby negating any likelihood of finding remnants from the Neolithic and Bronze age periods, which were now probably spread around the vegetable gardens of the village.
“So we lost that neolithic and bronze period part but we found tools and food remains from the paleolithic age, from 9,000 years ago to 14,000 years ago. We identified nine species of monkey and it seems wild boar was most dominant, birds, fish and shells. We found many tools, mostly for cutting and scraping but also for hunting. These would have been connected to timber by vines but have since rotted over the years.”
At present Professor Moktar and his team have analysed about 40 to 50 % of the sediment and artefacts found within the 13 one-metre by one-metre holes, that are now two metres deep and the prospect of excavating and analysing the next metre of sediment excites Moktar.
“We also still have more than 60 metres of surface area still to be excavated so it is important to finish the digging, analyse the data and complete the interpretation.”
The professor is hopeful the third phase of the excavation will start early next year and expects what they find in the last metre of sediment may give indications of habitation in the area more than 15,000 years ago.
“It has always been in my mind, along with other archaeologists in South Asia, as to what happened? Where did the people go? There is a big, big gap between settlements in Sumatra and the caves in Northern and central Malaysia. Now this cave, Gua Pelangi, could enlighten this chronological puzzle and also the order of location.”
“This cave find is going to be great for Negeri Sembilan tourism because right now every part of the world with an archaeological site becomes a destination tourism spot that people love to visit and learn more about our history.”
“You must have a gallery, perhaps an on-site gallery, but this depends on the Forestry department giving permission. If not, it could be in Jelebu, because these are the products of people from Jelebu.”
In 2000, Professor Moktar proposed to the government that these areas should always be accessible to everybody, under regulation and permits, to educate the public and more importantly, to help the local people with jobs.
“We need to train the tour guides, so Azliny’s staff should be trained in the history and science of humans living in this area. People like to have a good travel experience which means the guide must know what they are talking about,” he says.
“Archaeological tourism really needs to develop and we must be prepared, we have to protect the areas and at the same time let people engage with them.”
Tours of the caves are available in packages offered by ATOA Adventures which include abseiling, climbing, trekking, archery and games. You can contact them at https://www.facebook.com/guapelangi/