Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Archaeologists to bead up the history of Sungai Mas
Thousands of beads of various colours and shapes have been unearthed at the Sungai Mas archaeological site, leaving the researchers with the mammoth task of beading up its history and pride of place in ancient history.
Situated about 21 km from here, the two-hectare site along Sungai Mas or "Gold River" has yielded almost 207,000 beads, the highest number found at a place in Southeast Asia, since excavation work started in 1980.
The obvious conclusion from the find is that it was a bead-producing centre in those days of antiquity. What is also known is that beads were widely used in ornaments such as chains and bracelets in those days.
Preliminary findings place the bead production at between the sixth and 14th century AD.
The bead galore has thus far made its way into the Malaysian Book of Records, while receiving wide attention of the archaeological world.
Curator of the Sungai Mas Archaeology Museum, Shamsul Rizal Md Saman, said excavation works at the site were done in stages beginning 1981 and up to now, they had gone into 10 phases covering 148 grids.
Archaeologists from the Bujang Valley in Merbok, the Museum and Antiquities Department, the Department of History of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Malaya had carried out the excavation works.
Back in 1985, based on data, theories, hypothesis and its potential, the site was chosen for the Intra-Asean Archaeological Excavation and Conservation project in Bujang Valley, which was participated by Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.
Several plans were proposed, including acknowledging the potential of Sungai Mas as a proto-historical site before the arrival of Islam.
Apart from beads, also found at the site were clay ceramics of which some were decorated, imported ceramics of celadon, porcelain, and stoneware - all believed to originate from Persia, China and West Asia. Shamsul said the recovery of broken, incomplete and uncompleted beads denoted clearly that Sungai Mas was at one time the centre for bead production.
The presence of uncompleted beads and raw materials used in making beads further added weight to this belief, he said.
"Further research shows the beads discovered were not only produced here but were also brought in from China and Persia," he said.
Shamsul said evidence present also showed that Sungai Mas was a bead-producing centre that was at par with other bead-producing centres like in Mantai (Sri Lanka), Khlong Thom (Thailand) and Oc-eo (Vietnam).
According to Samsul, the beads uncovered come with an aperture in the centre, are durable and brightly coloured without losing their luster. They also had multiple uses.
He explained that beads at time were considered ornaments of grandeur that were widely used in religious and customary rites or as personal accessories in those old days. It is said to possess mystical powers and has its own myth.
"Every bead has its own role and function according to its size and colour. The colour of the beads used is said to represent one's social standing," he said.
The beads were also used as monetary units in trade as discovered in Sarawak. However, such uses of beads in Sungai Mas were still being studied.
He said they have so far classified the beads found in Sungai Mas into 57 shapes, like cylinder, cube, coil, pentagon, hexagon, square and rings.
"Apart from the myriad of bright colours like red, blue and so on, the beads are also characterised by motifs or certain decorations, often highlighting fine craftsmanship practised by the ancient society," he said.
Shamsul also said the beads found here were made from carnelian, stones, bones, clay and glass.
The Sungai Mas archaeological site, discovered in 1980, is a historical treasure trove and is estimated to be 1,600 years old. It is believed to be the remnants of the ancient civilisation known as `Katahanagara' (or Olden Kedah), a contemporary of the Srivijaya empire.
Due to its significance, the site would be upgraded for conservation purposes and archaeological investigations would continue.
For this purpose, Shamsul said, several elements like the entrance, landscape, pedestrian walkway, digging areas and temporary exhibition areas would be upgraded.
"The process of rebuilding and upgrading these elements and the building of a museum would showcase the oldest known civilisation in the land," he said. - Bernama