The Sungai Batu Civilisation, Bujang Valley 110 AD - ?

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By Pipit Tai 

While exploring the Bujang Valley area for potential ecotourist hotspots with Forest, we came upon an interesting archaeological dig with USM students and researchers busy uncovering centuries old secrets. We dropped in not realizing that we were visiting a crucially significant site in our nation’s history.


We had just visited the site of the nearby museum where artifacts and temples of a Hindu culture that flourished in the same area are displayed. We thought this was part of the same culture.


We found out later that this is not so. The Sungai Batu civilization existed earlier and did not seem to be a religious based culture found near the museum site, but a commercial civilization thought to manufacture and trade in iron implements as an iron mill and jetty were uncovered on the site.


Site at Sungai Batu


The digging at Sungai Batu

Temple ruin at Bujang Valley Museum

Lingga - Male sex organ

The bricks that made up some of the structures have been dated to 110AD. This is about 500 years earlier than the great SE Asian Buddhist civilizations which built the Angkor Wat and Borobodur and is claimed to be the oldest known in SE Asia.


This is bound to create some excitement and also trigger curiosity and lots of questions.


Was it a locally based civilization and not one based on Indian immigrants ensconced in the Malayan peninsula to exploit iron deposits (such as foreign investors do today)? Was the technology imported from India (the same way we import some foreign technologies today)? What sort of culture and religion did they practice? What was their marriage and burial rites like? Did they practice human sacrifices and conduct sex orgies? What caused their demise and disappearance? Was it due to internal corruption of social ties or due to natural calamities and external invasions?


It is too easy to view their civilization based on current modern concerns and standards. It is therefore hoped that the research will be done professionally, objectively and accurately so that we have a realistic idea of the lives of some of the earliest Malaysians.


Some other questions that spring to mind are –


The research shows there are indeed small iron deposits scattered over the foot of Gunung Jerai. Could the ancients be as creative as to exploit what little there was? No doubt iron in those days may be extremely valuable and rare and what little that existed was enough to feed the commerce and industry of an entire civilization what is thought to extend up to modern day Bukit Mertajam.


How did the civilization die off and disappear? Did the iron deposits run out? Were they attacked and destroyed by waves of Indians who superceded them and built the later Hindu temples and chandis or did religious wars break out with Hinduism triumphing over animism which some researchers claim these people practiced?


Phallus and vagina religious symbols were found in the later Hindu sites. Were these cultural practices inherited from the older culture? As mentioned earlier, did these people practice religious sex orgies? Were they followers of an animistic Kamasutra cult?


Further, only brick structures have been uncovered. It is assumed that the important religious sites be built of long lasting bricks, but the abodes of everyday citizens may have been built of wood which is plentiful even in those days. Have any evidence of the houses and lives of the ordinary people survived the ravages of time? Did they leave their metal valuables (such as gold coins and jewelry) behind when they disappeared or did they carry them away? Is there evidence of fire destruction which could indicate invasion rather than abandonment of an exhausted industrial area rather like the slums of modern civilisations?


It is hoped that future excavations can answer some of these questions and reveal the lives and civilization of ancient Malaysians to us. Hopefully, we can then learn some useful lessons from those who came before us.