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Malaysia’s Latest Archaeological Find – A Buddha Statue Older Than Angkor Wat

Malaysia’s Latest Archaeological Find – A Buddha Statue Older Than Angkor Wat

The complete statue from the Kedah Tua civilization dates back to the eighth or ninth century.

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An archaeological find at the Bukit Choras archaeological site in Yan, Kedah, is a significant one.

The life-size Buddha statue is said to be older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia.

The complete statue from the Kedah Tua civilization dates back to the eighth or ninth century.

A Sanskrit inscription and earthen pottery fragments were also found.

“The discovery is older than the Angkor Wat and Borobudur. This is interesting for us,” Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry secretary-general Datuk Roslan Abdul Rahman said, as reported by Bernama.

Involved in the discovery were the Global Archaeological Research Centre (PPAG), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and a local team led by Nasha Rodziadi Khaw (chief researcher of the team from the University of Science Malaysia’s Global Archaeology Research Centre (CGAR) ) which is a collaboration between the National Heritage Department (JWN) and USM.

“We will hold an exhibition soon after USM completes a thorough study on the relic, and we have not made a decision yet on whether such discoveries will be exhibited at a selected museum or if Bukit Choras will be developed as a new archaeotourism product like as has been done in Cambodia and Indonesia,” he added.

Pictures of the discovery were also shared by a Twitter user.

The life-size Buddha sculpture was made of stucco, which is a mixture of lime, water and sand found at the temple’s north wall.

The relic has been temporarily placed in the PPAG USM laboratory for conservation work. Up to phase three, three inscriptions containing Buddhist mantras were found at the site.

The latest discoveries provide new insights into the Kedah Tua civilization’s geostrategic position in Southeast Asia’s maritime trade route.

Previous Discoveries

In August last year, a team of 11 researchers found a 1,200-year-old Buddhist stupa at Bukit Choras.

In contrast to the 184 archaeological sites already discovered in the Bujang Valley to the south, the stupa is uniquely situated on the northern side of Gunung Jerai.

Historically a prominent cape, Gunung Jerai served as a crucial navigation landmark for seafaring traders travelling from distant regions such as the Arabian Peninsula.

“We are still not sure of Bukit Choras’s function. It may have been a military garrison or coastal trade outpost, but we need to do further excavation [to assess]. Based on our preliminary findings, it shows plenty of similarities with other sites found in Java and Sumatra, Indonesia,” Nasha said at the time of the discovery, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Two Buddha statues and an inscription in Pallava, a language from the Pallava Dynasty of South India, have also been found at Bukit Choras.

These statues share architectural features with artefacts from the Srivijaya kingdom, which thrived between the 7th and 11th centuries CE.

Bukit Choras

The Bujang Valley discoveries indicate an ancient civilisation known as the “Ancient Kedah Kingdom” or Kerajaan Kedah Tua which flourished between the 2nd and 14th centuries CE.

This kingdom, predating the arrival of Islam, extended along the northwestern coast of the Malay peninsula into Thailand.

Ancient Kedah thrived on international trade and the production of iron and glass beads, becoming a multiethnic and multireligious society.

Nasha noted that traders from China, India, and the Middle East frequented the area, often staying in Kedah during harsh monsoon seasons.

Temples and artefacts in the region exhibit a mix of foreign architectural influences.

The first mention of Bukit Choras dates back to 1850 when it was reported by a British officer and briefly studied by HG Quaritch Wales in 1937.

Despite minor excavations, Wales only reported a squarish stupa, without providing any illustrations or plates. In 1984, the then-director of the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum returned to the site, but it remained undisturbed.

In 2017, Nasha managed to get some funding to kick-start his research on the site. Later he received funding from Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education to conduct proper excavations in 2022.

The team discovered a well-preserved site compared to those found in the Bujang Valley between the 1930s and 1950s, which had deteriorated due to erosion, human activities, and accidental destruction.

The most important discovery was two stucco statues of Buddha in good condition, which were thought to only be found in Java and Sumatra in Indonesia and India at the time.

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