Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Perak Man of Lenggong Valley @ Lenggong Archaeology Gallery (Galeri Arkeologi Lenggong)

Location: Lenggong, Perak, Malaysia

I like to experience the culture and history of my travel destinations, so naturally UNESCO World Heritage Sites are on my itinerary. And it would be a short leap of logic that I search for such sites in Malaysia, revealing only a disappointing 4, with only 2 of them cultural, the rest natural. The one which piqued my interest was the Archaeological Heritage of Lenggong Valley, a short hour drive away from my hometown of Ipoh.

Prior to this visit I would not lay my eyes on Lenggong. It was an unassuming town that spanned a few streets and nestled within a lush valley. A February rainy day changed my perception by providing a different scenery to the driving experience. The road trip under low hanging clouds when we approached the town felt surreal, and I pretended for more than once that I was driving into a hidden valley isolated from the rest of civilization. If I can drive into such situations in the future, I would not hesitate to do so again. I may even drive to Lenggong just to enjoy the experience.

Lenggong Archaeological Gallery - the parking lot was quite empty...

The most unique architecture of the whole museum is the tall structure shading the entrance.

UNESCO inscribed Lenggong Valley into the World Heritage List due to the discovery of Perak Man. He was not a superhero, but a full skeletal specimen of early residents of South-East Asia, showing a stage in human evolution. His fame came from being the earliest human remains excavated in South-East Asia, providing archaeologists important evidence to human evolution in the region. With such an important discovery, the archaeological site in Lenggong Valley earned a mark in the World Heritage List in 2012.

Unlike my visit to most UNESCO inscribed sites, we did not step onto the site itself but to a museum housing the archaeological discoveries. There were a total of 4 sites which were inscribed into the list, with the museum occupying one of those. The museum, a 2-story building, was not difficult to find, being one of the few buildings in the area and marked by a large sign. Although the museum’s architecture was unimpressive, its entrance was decked out in the form of an artificial cave to create the illusion of entering the site itself.

Of course the entrance itself is also noteworthy. Points given for adding a nice touch to made it look like you are entering a cave to see the remains.

We signed on the guestbook provided by the polite but bored guard, and entered the artificial rock cave tunnel of the lower floor, inspecting various exhibitions ranging from photos of the excavation team to the tools they used to some artifacts – some authentic and others replicas. For the younger generations, this could be a short educational trip to understand Neolithic life in the Malay Peninsula as there were enough exhibits to capture their attentions better compared to a textbook.

A gallery depicting the people involved in the excavation. It may not pique the interest of most people but an excavation is an arduous process requiring skill and patience that we just aren't willing to equip ourselves with. Bravo to the Malaysians who braved the jungles in the quest to understand our past better.

Did Luffy from One Piece lost his hat?

Good old notebook - I wonder if an e-book will be presented in the future when archaeological digs are exhibited...

Vandalism - the bane of most archaeological sites. The word 'AK' was vandalized upon the cave walls of Gua Badak, forever tarnishing an important piece of history and hindering the archaeologists' effort.

Tools of the ancients

Imagine using these to try to cut through anything...

The highlight of the museum, the skeletal remains of Perak Man, was anticlimactic. He lied serenely, protected from the curious observer in a transparent case, instead of being portrayed in interesting postures like a dinosaur rearing his head. There was however an entertaining display of the identity card offered to our Perak Man, an evidence of him being a Malaysian citizen.

This is the artificial cave made to recreate the cave home of the museum's main inhabitant. If you ask me, I find this cave very impressive that it was very real. Any more real and you would have to house the museum in a cave.

Resting in peace.

The blue IC granted to Perak Man to acknowledge him as a Malaysian citizen... Quite neat...

The ancients preparing for food

A glimpse into past lives

The main man himself...

Second floor of the museum

The plaque commemorating the inscription by UNESCO

There wasn’t much to observe on the second floor apart from some specimens and a plaque which commemorated the inscription of the valley into UNESCO's list. We finished our tour in less than an hour and since we drove over an hour to reach here, we thought that we might as well explore the hill on which the museum occupied. A gradual slope rose from the building and it took little effort to climb the low rise to reach the top, occupied by a lone observation tower.

Although it looked dilapidated, the 3-story tower was not shabby at all, itself built out of concrete and fenced properly for safety. We climbed up the tower for a view and was not disappointed at all. The lush foliage stretched as far as the eye could see, broken only by the hills to the horizon and the snaking river cutting a path across. With the clouds rolling past lazily after a light shower, the scenery was calm and soothing. It was by far the best reason I could give to anyone who ask why they should be here.

Outdoors! Let's go for a short climb...

Any fancy in geology? These are some educating rocks - they explain the different types of rocks and you can touch them to feel their texture.

The observation tower at the top of the rise

It looked a little rusty but was stable as the concrete it was built from.

The view is a killer. The rolling hills and verdant jungles... This is way more of a better recommendation for visiting this museum than the skeletal remains that made this valley famous.

The gathering storm (click for larger panorama)

Some huge rocks were displayed along the route uphill to fascinate those with a geology interest but none of us were remotely drawn to them. Still it would be educating to youngsters to learn the various names and differentiate between them. With the rain looked ready to continue its hiatus and escalate it further, we decided that we were done with the place. With us, the last visitors, driving out of the gates, the museum was undisturbed once again, waiting for the next curious visitor's arrival.

As a footnote of this post, I would like to say that I do not know if the skeletal remains in the Lenggong Archaeological Museum are the real deal or just a duplicate for display. It was mentioned online that the original specimen was in National Museum for studies and it was not further mentioned if it had returned.

Environment:         A museum on Perak Man in the middle of a lush jungle
Suitable for:            History buffs and UNESCO hunters
Visit worthiness:       5/10 (not everyone will enjoy it, and despite it being an exhibition of UNESCO heritage, there isn't much to see except for the lush surroundings)
Historical value:        5.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  0.0/5.0
Photographic value:  2.5/5.0
Landmark value:       3.0/5.0

Entrance Fee:                 free
Opening Hours:            (daily except Fri) 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.
                                              (Fri)                        9.00 a.m. - 12.00 p.m.; 3.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m.
Best Moment to Visit: anytime, but the rainy seasons is the best to see the misty jungles
Length of Visit:              1 hour

Website:                   Main webpage of Galeri Arkeologi Lenggong

Contact:                    +605 - 767 9700 (phone); +605 - 767 9703 (fax)
E-mail:                      -
Address:                   Galeri Arkeologi Lenggong, Jabatan Warisan Negara, Kota Tampan Lenggong, 33400 Perak, Malaysia.

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