IT'S about time history finds a place for Sungai Batu, which has meandered into a trickle. The spread of the eight surviving structure of jetties recently excavated on both sides of its banks suggest, unmistakably, that Sungai Batu was, at its peak, a wondrous waterway.
One estimate, based on the precise location of the jetties, has it that the river was about 100m wide and 30m deep.
Recently, a new batch of brick samples, plucked from a ritual site on the river's banks and freshly returned from a Korean lab, reveals that this corner of Kedah was throbbing with life, business and, evidently, technology and architecture from the 5th Century BC.
One of the eight surviving structures of an ancient town recently
excavated in the Bujang Valley.
This has been one massive revelation. The age of the ruins found work out to about 1,200 to 1,300 years older than Cambodia's Angkor Wat and the estimated age of the oldest candi previously found in the Bujang Valley.
While similarly majestic structures have yet to be discovered in the Bujang Valley-Sungai Batu region, the source of all the excitement has been the range and correlations of components found.
For a fuller picture, at times dramatic and vivid on the imagination score, is appearing on the screens of archaeologists putting the pieces together -- a ritual site, jetties, an iron smelting industry.
"We found 12 structures of varying designs, some with rooms, which increasingly look like administrative offices near the jetties," said Prof Mokhtar Saidin of Universiti Sains Malaysia's Centre for Global Archeological Research. This USM centre is spearheading the search- and-collate project on the extent of goings-on in the area.
Tormenting him lately has been this poser: Why hasn't the depth of civilisation in the area been revealed much earlier?
A flurry of questions, conference papers, newspaper articles and deeper research are definitely needed, exploring such topics as the generations of shipbuilders, architects, modes and structures of administrations, and rise and falls of kingdoms, relations and trade with other powers of the time, wars and maybe not instances of chivalry and deceit.
Mokhtar, his team, and experts worldwide have looked into consulted the many angles in the of probe and , have been scrutinising available recordings.
The Chinese explorer I-Ching committed to paper his travels, including those stopovers at the Nicobar islands en route to India.
"It seems that the islanders would be wait for iron ingots the size of three fingers traded for with five coconuts," said Mokhtar.
Details of the iron ingots were similarly found in the the writings of Islamic scientists and Indian chroniclers. A common denominator was the black iron, or "Kazh" in the Indian empire, which referred to the area in Kedah as "Kazharam". But despite the extensive finds of smelters, not too many finished products were found in Sungai Batu. Chances are the place was indeed exporting iron ingots.
The rituals of the early inhabitants of Sungai Batu/Bujang Valley is an area of interest. While temples from the Hindu-Buddhist traditions would face East-West, the trajectories of the monuments found in Sungai Batu were fixed northwards, facing Gunung Jerai.
The monuments comprises three parts: a circular brick structure, with a square brick structure on top of it, and on at the top of that, which a round brick structure sits.
A paper titled "Survey and Excavation of an Ancient Monument in Sungai Batu" by Zulkurnain Hassan, Stephen Chia and Hamid Mohd Isa pointed out that Gunung Jerai was believed to be a sacred place in Buddhism. Or, were the people of the era worshipping the Kedah peak as a form of animism?
Mokhtar has not ruled out this possibility after consulting widely. It seems that no other ancient civilisation in the world or throughout the ages has produced a similar ritual structure.
Rashid Yusof firstname.lastname@example.org is the Deputy Group Editor for NST New Straits Times Online Opinion Columnist 14/12/2013