A crew of researchers led by the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Analysis in collaboration with The Sarawak Museum Division have change into the primary up to now drawings of Gua Sireh Collapse Sarawak, uncovering a tragic story of battle within the course of.


The limestone cave of Gua Sireh in western Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) is known for the a whole lot of charcoal drawings lining the partitions of its most important chambers, attracting a whole lot of holiday makers annually.

Roughly 55km southeast of Sarawak’s Capital, Kuching, the positioning is managed by the Bidayuh (native Indigenous peoples) in collaboration with The Sarawak Museum Division, with the drawings depicting Indigenous resistance to frontier violence within the 1600s and 1800s AD.

Radiocarbon ages for the drawings date them between 280 and 120 cal BP (AD 1670 to 1830), corresponding with a interval of accelerating battle within the area when the Malay elites controlling the area exacted heavy tolls on Indigenous hill tribes, together with the Bidayuh.


To the very best of the crew’s information, these radiocarbon dates are the primary chronometric age determinations for Malaysian rock artwork.

Examine co-lead, Dr Jillian Huntley mentioned step one was establishing what had been used to make the drawings.

“We needed to substantiate the pictures have been drawn with charcoal, as there are a restricted variety of substances you possibly can truly radiocarbon date,” she mentioned.

“We have been wanting on the decay isotopes of carbon, which meant the fabric needed to be carbon bearing, and our analyses (with collaborator Dr Emilie Dotte-Sarout at College of Western Australia) decided charcoal from completely different species of bamboo had been used.

“Being drawn on limestone, they’re remarkably effectively preserved.”

The artwork at Gua Sireh is a part of a wider distribution of black drawings discovered from the Philippines by central Island Southeast Asia throughout Borneo and Sulawesi to Peninsular Malaysia. They’re considered related to the diaspora of Austronesian talking peoples.

Earlier relationship work, additionally led by the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Analysis, has established comparable drawings within the Philippines have been made as early as ~3500 cal BP and ~1500 cal BP in southern Sulawesi.

“Black drawings within the area have been made for 1000’s of years,” Dr Huntley mentioned.

“Our work at Gua Sireh signifies this artwork kind was used as much as the latest previous to file Indigenous peoples’ experiences of colonisation and territorial violence.”

Co-lead Distinguished Professor Paul Tacon mentioned the crew knew from earlier work within the area that northwest Borneo’s rock artwork (the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak) is dominated by drawings of individuals, animals, ships and summary geometric/linear design.

“At Gua Sireh, individuals are drawn sporting headdresses — some armed with shields, knives and spears, in scenes displaying actions equivalent to looking, butchering, fishing, preventing and dancing,” he mentioned.

“We had clues about their age primarily based on topics equivalent to launched animals, however we actually did not understand how outdated they have been, so it was tough to interpret what they could imply.”

Bidayuh descendant and curator at The Sarawak Museum Division Mr Mohammad Sherman Sauffi William mentioned understanding of the dates had been knowledgeable by the oral histories of the Bidayuh who’ve persevering with custodial duties over the positioning at present.

“The Bidayuh recall Gua Sireh’s use as a refuge throughout territorial violence within the early 1800s when a really harsh Malay Chief had demanded they hand over their youngsters,” he mentioned.

“They refused and retreated to Gua Sireh, the place they initially held off a drive of 300 armed males making an attempt to enter the cave from the valley about 60 meters beneath.

“Struggling some losses (two Bidayuh have been shot and 7 taken prisoner/enslaved), they saved their youngsters when a lot of the tribe escaped by a passageway in the back of the biggest entrance chamber which leads a whole lot of meters by the Gunung Nambi limestone hill.

“The figures have been drawn holding distinctive weapons equivalent to a Pandat which was used solely for preventing or safety, as effectively two short-bladed Parang Ilang, the primary weapons used throughout warfare that marked the primary many years of white rule in Borneo.”

The total analysis paper will probably be revealed within the journal PLOS ONE titled Rock artwork and frontier battle in Southeast Asia: Insights from direct radiocarbon ages for the big human figures of Gua Sireh, Sarawak on 23 August 2023 (ET).

A digital fly-through of the Gua Sireh cave could be seen at

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