By G. Sivapragasam
On the June 10, the New Straits Times reported that the Perak government wants Lenggong Valley to be declared a world heritage site.
It quoted the Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir saying that the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had done an assessment of the area and that it had potential, especially in terms of world history. It further reported that, “According to UNESCO, the Lenggong Valley is one of the earliest sites of world civilisation which dates back more than 180 million years”.
There can be no dispute that amongst the attractions in Perak the Lenggong Valley archaeological sites are in a class of their own. They have the potential, as Dr Zambry claimed, to put Perak on the world map.
Information Disseminated Should Be Accurate
Having said that, I need to impress that if we are to succeed in establishing and promoting this area as an important archaeological site we need to become more knowledgeable about archaeology in general and the area in particular and deliver accurate information. Only then can we be perceived as credible.
Grossly inaccurate statements like that attributed to UNESCO that the “Lenggong valley civilisation dates back more than 180 million years” has to be avoided. I do not know if UNESCO actually said this but I seriously doubt it. Suffice it to say that 180 million years ago dinosaurs were still wandering around the earth and mammals, let alone man, existed in ferret-like form and this region, if it existed at all, was part of the supercontinent Pangaea.
Modern Man Left Africa Only 100,000 Years Ago
Current evidence supports the theory that modern man (Homo sapiens) left his place of origin in Africa only about 100,000 years ago. He probably arrived in the Lenggong valley about 80,000 years ago. However, there is evidence that the ancestors of modern man (Homo erectus or descendants) possibly resided in the Lenggong valley 200,000 years ago. Even if this specie were considered human we are still talking only about 200,000 years, and 180 million years is more than a little exaggeration. I can only hope that it is the New Straits Times that erred, substituting million for thousand. If that be the case, the Chief Minister’s secretary should have been diligent enough to correct the mistake within a day or two of its publication.
Is The Intent Research Or Tourism?
I do not know if the intention is to promote this site for research or as a tourist destination. If the intent is merely to employ the site for research I do not think much benefit could be derived by gaining recognition from UNESCO as a world heritage site. We will only succeed in subjecting ourselves to restrictions imposed by a third party.
If, on the other hand, we are talking about promoting the site as a tourist destination, I am puzzled by the fact that it appears to be missing in the Perak tourism master plan prepared by the consultant from New Zealand engaged by the State Government. It is unfortunate that there appears to be a singular lack of coordination amongst those directing tourism.
Set Up Dedicated Body for Lenggong
If we are really serious in promoting the Lenggong valley as a tourist destination, a separate body needs to be set up to single-mindedly focus on this product. It could be modelled on the Perak State Parks Corporation. At the moment, save for the museum, which I must say is well designed and the artefacts well presented, the archaeological sites are not easily accessible and more importantly not ready with infrastructure to not only support visitors but safeguard the integrity of the sites. Rules and regulations need to be devised and strictly enforced to ensure that the value of the sites is not compromised in any manner. If this is not done we will only be inviting disaster.
Immense Tourism Potential
Prof. Zuraina says archaeology is much more than artefacts. It is the study of human culture and the process of its evolution. It is the study of how societies evolved and civilisations developed in a complex, dynamic and changing process, influenced by a range of factors including the environment, contact with others, population increase and changing needs.
This vision presents almost unlimited prospects for creating tourist attractions based on the history of the Lenggong valley.
One possibility I can immediately think of is creating a sound and light show at a suitable site in the area. Bringing the history of the valley to life in this manner will provide tourists an exquisite experience of prehistoric Lenggong.
Prehistoric Sites in Lenggong
Kg. Temelong: 200,000 years
Kota Tampan: 75,000 years
Bukit Bunuh: 40,000 years
Gua Gunung Runtuh: 11,000 years
Gua Teluk Kelawar: 10,000 years
Gua Harimau: 6,000 years
Semang Villages: Today