Log coffin burial in Sabah

Many limestone caves in Sabah were used as log coffin burial grounds about 1000 years ago. More than a thousand of these log coffins made from belian and merbau and other local hardwoods have been discovered in limestone caves in Sabah, among which are situated in Agop Batu Tulug in Kampung Batu Puteh, Agop Miasias in Sungai Lokan, Agop Gomantong, Agop Batu Supu and Agop Sarupi in Sungai Kinabatangan, Agop Batu Balos, Agop Tapadong, Agop Kuala Danum, Agop Kuala Sungai Kalisun in Sungai Segama. The word “agop” in the language of the riverine tribe, located in Kinabatangan, can be translated into ‘cave’.

Log coffins made from belian and merbau woods

Log coffins made from belian and merbau woods

Some of these coffins are adorned with elaborate and unique carvings on the covers depicting seladang or tembadau heads, crocodiles, snakes, lizards and birds. The coffins for adults measured between seven to twelve feet, while those for children were between four to six feet.

Dongson Burial

A number of bronze drums, known as Dongson drums, usually in pairs, were found buried in several sites in Malaysia. These burials remain a mystery as most of them were chance finds with little or no archeological data. The bronze drums were discovered in Kuala Terengganu, Ulu Tembeling, Kelang and Banting and are believed to have been brought from Northern Vietnam based on similarities in shape and motifs on the drum face between drums found there and those from local sites.

Dongson drums

Dongson drums

The discovery of a pair of these drums at Kampung Sungai Lang in Banting, Selangor gave impetus to a new chapter in gathering data on Dongson drum burials as the site was systematically excavated. The finding was classified as a symbolic burial for a personage of a high social status in his community.

The excavation revealed that the Dongson drums were buried face down on a 2 meter long cengal hardwood plank believed to have been taken from an old boat. The whole of the drums were buried in earth piled up as a mound measuring about 5 meters at ground level and 1 meter at its peak. Ten clay pots were also recovered, surrounding the drums. These were believed to have held food and water, while glass beads were also found scattered among the pots.

Stone Slab Burials

This practice of stone slab burials was prevalent among the coastal communities of the Bernam Valley in Perak, especially around Sungkai, Changkat Mentri and Slim River. The stone slab or cist graves are created with stone slabs placed on top of the other to form a grave with the head end wider than the foot end. Although no human remains were found in these graves during the excavation works, archaeologists discovered several grave goods such as clay pottery, glass beads and iron implements. These archaeological relics are indicative of this practice being in existence since the metal Age about 300 BC and continued through the Proto History Period and ending around 14000 AD.

Stone Slab Burials

Stone Slab Burials

Jar / Urn Burial

Jar or urn burial is a practice among communities in Sabah, Serawak and Terengganu. Test carried out on artifacts from jar burials in the Niah Caves in Sarawak dates back to the late 2nd century BC. Human remains in the form of bones ash after cremation were interred in jars at this site.

Jar / Urn Burial

Jar / Urn Burial (the red circle shown that the corpse was put inside the jar)

Besides, another form of jar burial is also practiced among the tribes in Sabah and Sarawak where the remains of more than one individual are interred in a single jar. The corpse are left to be decomposed at a site that is safe from wild animals. The skull and bones are collected and arranged in a jar is then placed on the floor of limestone caves. Meanwhile, the Kelabit people of Sarawak are known for gathering burial urns close to megalithic structures that are kept in the deep jungle.

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