Niah Caves are several large limestone caves that have attracted archaeological interest since the 1950s. Excavations have turned up the earliest human remains in eastern Malaysia, as well as artifacts from various periods from early prehistory down through the Iron Age. One cave has paintings of mysterious “coffin ships” dating back 1,200 years. This long period of habitation makes the caves especially interesting to archaeologists because they can see how lifestyles and culture changed over time. The caves are part of Niah National Park.
Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud plans to propose the caves to UNESCO for their World Heritage List. The caves and park are already a popular tourist attraction, and getting the caves listed as a World Heritage Site would add to their appeal as well as attract conservation funding.
Mulu Caves on Borneo are already a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are famous for having the largest cave chamber in the world, measuring 600m (1,969ft) by 415m (1,362ft) and 80m (262ft) high.
The minister also wants to bring the remains found in the caves by foreign expeditions back into the country and wants to build special facilities at Sarawak Museum to take care of them. Malaysia was able to get some artifacts from another site back from Cambridge University in 2008, part of a growing trend of developing nations demanding their heritage back from Western institutions.
[Photo courtesy Dave Bunnell via Wikimedia Commons]