KUALA LUMPUR, March 5, 2009 (AFP) - Malaysian archaeologists Thursday said they had discovered the main site of an ancient kingdom that predates the Angkor temples of Cambodia and could be the oldest civilisation in the region.
Archaeological team leader Professor Mokhtar Saidin said the find, which could lead to a rewriting of history books on the region, was made in two palm oil plantations in northern Kedah state last month.
He said buildings found at the site indicate it was part of the ancient Hindu kingdom of Bujang which existed in the area some time in the third century AD, predating the Angkor civilisation of Cambodia which flourished from the 12th to 14th centuries.
"We have dated artifacts from what we belive are an administration building and an iron smelter to 1,700 BP (years before present) which sets the Bujang civilisation between the third and fourth century AD," he told AFP.
"We have only one date so far so we can say it is one of the earliest civilisations in the region but with more dates we will be able to verify whether it is the oldest civilisation in the region," he added.
Mokhtar said the iron smelter was a surprise find as it showed that such an early civilisation was already quite advanced technologically.
"We have 30 more mounds at the site that have to be excavated and we are hoping to also find the port area for the kingdom as it was near the sea," he added.
"This will give us a clue to how the civilisation was trading and influenced by China and India, who would have been the two main powers back then to have influenced development in this region."
Malaysian archaeologists last month also announced the discovery of stone tools they believe are more than 1.8 million years old and the earliest evidence of human ancestors in Southeast Asia.
The stone hand-axes were discovered last year in the historical site of Lenggong in northern Perak state, embedded in a type of rock formed by meteorites.