KEPALA BATAS: Archaeo-tourism efforts in the country must be strengthened as they will not only preserve national identity but also improve the local economy in surrounding areas, says archaeologist Prof Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin.

The director of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre for Global Archaeological Research said Malaysia should follow what other countries were doing with their archaeological sites where apart from documenting their findings, they also transformed the sites as tourism products in their respective countries.

“Any archaeological findings or evidence is proof of a nation’s early history.

“For example, what we have here in Guar Kepah is a 5,000-year-old site that is clearly our nation’s own identity, ” he said after welcoming and briefing a group of Japanese children and expats at the Guar Kepah Archaeological Site yesterday.

Prof Mokhtar said: “When the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery is ready, locals living nearby can sell heritage-themed souvenirs and other products to tourists.”

“Conservation efforts cannot be neglected and must be done to preserve the site. The efforts must work hand in hand; if we do it right, we’ll get both preservation and economy from the aspect of archaeo-tourism, ” he said.

It was reported that the Federal Government has approved a total of RM10mil to develop the Guar Kepah Archaeological Site.

Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI) deputy general manager S. Bharathi had said the allocation was approved through the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority in December last year. CMI is a state investment arm.

The allocation is scheduled to be used to build a proper gallery at the site, with actual development work set to begin by early next year.

The RM10mil will be dispersed in two phases – one this year and the other, next year.

The Guar Kepah Archaeological Site, covering almost one hectare, was the site where archaeologists discovered the Neolithic skeletal remains of the “Penang Woman”.

The “Penang Woman” was discovered when the area was dug up to lay the foundations for the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery in April 2017 at a spot near the Penang-Kedah border, about 28km from Butterworth.

Located less than 20km from the Sungai Batu Archaeological Site in Kedah, it is also home to the first and only Neolithic skeleton of a woman found in a shell midden in Malaysia.

In May 2017, radiocarbon dating carried out in the United States showed that the remains of the “Penang Woman” discovered in Guar Kepah were approximately 5,710 years old.

Prof Mokhtar said USM as the adviser and researcher of Guar Kepah and CMI as the owner would focus on the development of the gallery before bringing the site to Unesco listing.

“We will work together and highlight the matter after the completion of the gallery. To nominate Guar Kepah as a Unesco site, there must be comparisons with other similar shell midden sites as Guar Kepah in other parts of the world.

“There are more than 2,700 shell midden sites in Japan similar to Guar Kepah, the only shell midden site in this country, ” he said.

Shell middens are mounds of kitchen debris consisting of shells and food remnants, which hint at ancient human settlements or burial sites.

Earlier, a group of 35 Japanese families with children was thrilled when they got a feel of how being an archaeologist at work was.