Malaysia’s National Heritage Department and the University of Science (USM) Global Archaeology Research Centre (GARC) announced last week that they have discovered an ancient Buddhist temple structure in Bukit Choras, north of the island of Penang and some 70 kilometers from the border with Thailand. The structure is believed to be 1,200 yearsold, dating to southern India’s Pallava dynasty.
Excavation work at the site began on 28 August. The commissioner of the National Heritage Department, Mohd Azmi Mohd Yusof, described the findings as the most significant archaeological discovery in Malaysia since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temple is estimated to cover an area of nine square meters, but further excavation will needed to determine its exact dimensions. Currently, the researchers believe the work to be about 40 per cent complete. The archaeologists noted that the temple is the largest ever found in this valley and its architectural characteristics make it an exciting find.
“The most unique feature about this discovery is that most of the artifacts are still intact, the temple still retaining its full structure,” said Yusof. “We hope to make more discoveries to bring elements into Kedah civilization besides adding a new archaeo-tourism product in the state.” (New Straits Times)
“This is the first discovery under a pilot project following an MoU signed between the department and 11 local universities,” Yusof noted during a press conference after visiting the site on 22 September.
The team was led by GARC chief researcher Dr. Nasha Rodziadi Khaw, who noted: “The uniqueness of the temple at this archaeological site is firstly how it has been preserved, we can see that the condition of the walls in the north, west, and south areas are well-preserved. Secondly, we found two human-sized structures made out of stucco . . . and the discovery of stucco has not been reported in the Bujang Valley but only in Sumatra and Java.” (South Asian Archaeology)
Also present at the press conference were USM vice-chancellor Prof. Abdul Rahman Mohamed and GARC director Prof. Stephen Chia.
Prof. Mohamed said that the university would continue to work with the GARC to promote future archaeo-tourism projects in the region: “There are many that are still to be explored in Bujang Valley as we need more time to carry out excavation works. More importantly, these discoveries shall enable us to review historical events written by the western historians.” (New Straits Times)
According to Dr. Khaw, there were similarities between the temple at Bukit Choras and temples in West Java and Sumatra, raising questions about the cultural relationship between this site and others in Southeast Asia. “The statues and artifacts discovered from the site will be taken back to GARC USM for conservation and further research,” he said. (New Straits Times)
Dr. Khaw explained that the excavation work as of 8 September had exposed the whole western wall of the temple and half of its northern and southern walls, as well as staircase structures on its base, adding that the site was special because it was so far north of other sites.
Work at the site is set to resume by December. In that time, the team hopes to uncover the remaining structure.
According to 2020 census data, 63.5 per cent of the population of Malaysia practices Islam. Buddhists account for 18.7 per cent of the population, Christians 9.1 per cent, and Hindus 6.1 per cent. The remaining 9 per cent follow a variety of other religious traditions.
Largest Buddhist temple structure unearthed in Bukit Choras, dating back 1,200 years (New Straits Times)
Peneliti Temukan Kuil Buddha Berusia 1.200 Tahun di Malaysia (Kompas)
Historian lauds discovery of ancient Buddhist temple in Bukit Choras (Malaysiakini)
Ancient Pallava Inscription and Statues Found at Bukit Choras in Kedah (Southeast Asia Archaeology)
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