Archaeological researchers led by Professor Mokhtar Saidin of Universiti Sains Malaysia have uncovered a surprising find: an iron industry complex that has flourished since 788 BC at Sungai Batu, which is an important part of the Bujang Valley complex.
According to Channel News Asia, the monument complex, discovered in 1830, is much older than famous monuments such as Borobudur in Indonesia (8th century) and Angkor Wat in Cambodia (12th century). As such, Sungai Batu and the Bujang Valley Complex are an integral part of Southeast Asia's oldest civilization.
In 2016, Sungai Batu received remarkable recognition at a meeting on ancient Kedah. During the meeting, Professor Mokhtar revealed that this declaration was signed by five archaeologists representing world-renowned civilizations, including Mesopotamian, Indus, Mesoamerican, Chinese and Greco-Roman.
The Bujang Valley is believed to cover an area of 1,000 square kilometers on the west coast of Malaysia, stretching from northern Penang to Kedah and possibly as far east as the Thai border. For more than a hundred years, researchers have found evidence of Hindu-Buddhist temples, iron smelters, and ancient artifacts in the valley. They believe the region was a busy trading port that connected sea lanes from China to India and even Arabia.
Mokhtar, a researcher who retired two years ago, says the Bujang Valley is of great importance to Southeast Asia and the world because of its strategic role as a link between East and West. The geographical features of the valley make it an "ideal" port, with bays and estuaries suitable for ships to dock. The nearby Mount Jerai served as a landmark for ships on long voyages.
According to Mokhtar, ships once anchored in this valley for months to wait for the wind, and it was during this period that religion spread and led to the construction of temples in the region. The Sungai Batu site itself is evidence of a trading system dating back 2,800 years.
More interestingly, the researchers found documents mentioning "Qalah", the Arabic word for ancient Kedah, which originated in Mesopotamia in 1300 BC. This discovery is much older than the discovery of iron smelting in 788 BC. Mokhtar attributes this to possible contact between the Bujang Valley and Mesopotamia, one of the world's oldest civilizations, which existed some 8,000 years ago. However, no concrete evidence has yet been found to support this hypothesis.
Unfortunately, despite the valley's immense historical value, archaeological work here has come to a standstill because no one has taken Mokhtar's place to continue the exploration and discover more about this amazing ancient civilization.
Mokhtar hopes that the next generation of archaeologists can add to the existing data to reveal the true extent of the Bujang Valley. He stressed the importance of preserving the valley as Malaysia's natural heritage, identity and pride. Mokhtar also expressed his hope that the government will treat the Bujang Valley with the same level of respect as Rome treated Pompeii, and recognize its archaeotourism potential that can generate significant revenue, as has happened with Borobudur and Angkor.