Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ancient Kedah Revisited - Part 2

Day 2 started on a very positive note. There were excitement in the air and this could be clearly seen on the faces of the participants. Well, the simple but delicious breakfast of fried bee hoon (thin rice noodle) helped too!

Prof. Dato’ Dr. Mokhtar Saidin was already waiting for us when we reached the complex at about 8am. He brought with him about a dozen assistants, comprising of his Master and PhD archaeology students and volunteers from the local community. They would be assisting us in the excavation works. The Professor’s involvement and his untiring devotion to the Sungai Batu archaeological works since 2006 were clearly reflected by the successful findings and the preservation of the sites. Semi permanent structures are being built on top of each and every site to avoid degradation and deterioration of the artefacts while security officers are stationed at the complex to guard the place at all times.  

A short technical briefing was given by Prof. Mokhtar followed by the do’s and don’t’s by a senior assistant. We were each given a set of tools that consists of a small shovel, a mallet, a clinical mask, a dustpan, a paintbrush, a chisel, an ice pick, a rubbish basket and a face towel.

We finished our excavation works for the day at 4.30pm and were told that the unfinished works would be continued the following day by ‘the regulars’, who are mostly locals trained and paid to do the job.

That night, after a simple dinner, we convened under the moonlight and had a casual talk with the Prof. The topic was the history of Lembah Bujang as described in the various transcripts and archaic references from the ancient Chinese, Indian and Arabian traders. The popularity of Lembah Bujang as one of the world’s earliest iron smelting industry and iron exports was inscribed in the history. The high quality of the iron was mentioned in the Arabic and Indian transcripts as being used to make horse carriages and swords. It was a very enlightening talk and Q&A session and Prof. Mokhtar, being the expert in his field, seemed to enjoy answering all questions posed to him.   

On the last day at Sungai Batu complex, we were given a two hour personalized guided-tour of the whole complex by the Prof. himself. The complex comprises of administration buildings, iron smelting furnaces, jetties and stuppas, with the oldest being one 487BC concrete jetty. Can you imagine the ancient Kedah civilization already having bricks industry back then!  

The highlight of the 3 day event was the closing ceremony officiated by the Honorable Menteri Besar of Kedah, Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Mahathir. In his speech, he promised to give his full support to the Sungai Batu Archaeological Complex in terms of promotions and getting due financial assistance from the federal government. It was a big kenduri-like (locals get-together) atmosphere where traditional dishes were prepared for all to savour. The presence of the likeable VVIP also helped to add to the merriment of the event where he was seen mingling and shaking hands with both the locals and the participants.  

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