The Niah Caves in Malaysia

by Graeme Barker

High. Ein Heft über Eliten (Ausgabe I/2015)


The desert entrance to the network of caves: the British adventurer Tom Harrisson is photographed as he digs up a 40,000-year-old human skull. Photo: Tristan Savatier/Getty Images

Whoever visits the Niah Caves in Malaysia, in the north-western part of Borneo island, is bound to sweat. First during the march through the forest, then on the final ascent to the caves. In 1997, as I stood for the first time in the western entrance of the caves (picture above), I was exhausted - but felt blessed. The sight more than compensated for the effort. Caverns up to seventy meters high, as big as cathedrals, surrounded me, and above me thousands of birds and bats were buzzing, their chirping and clicking sounds filling the air.

But the Niah Caves are not known for their enormous size - they cover more than ten hectares - or their breath-taking fauna, but rather for their because of a sensational archaeological find. In 1958 the British adventurer Tom Harrisson discovered a 40,000-year-old human skull in the west entrance during excavations. Later investigations revealed that our ancestors buried their fellow men here 50,000 years ago. Even today, the caves still are used by local population, albeit for something less morbid: The nests of the native swifts are taken out and sold for a lot of money to Chinese traders. They consist of the protein-rich saliva of birds and are considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine.

As told to by Kai Schnier 

similar articles

The hunters and the hunted (Cultural spots)

The Thar Desert in Rajasthan

by Maximilian Mann

About the deeply rooted tradition of nature conservation among the Bishnoi in the middle of the Indian desert.


The hunters and the hunted

On deer mountain

By Luis Montesinos Césped

How do you study an almost unknown species of deer? And how can it be protected? A park ranger from Chile reports.



The lure of the mountains

a photo gallery by Florian Richter

Climbing higher in search of the last unspoilt natural spots.


The better America (Books)

At the slaughterhouse

by Pascale Hugues

Humans have often overstepped the mark in their treatment of other living creatures. Corine Pelluchon's books urge more respect for animals and nature.


Black and white thinking (What's different elsewhere)

Buried, twice

by Arpan Rachman

Why the Tiwah of Borneo bury their dead twice


Nonstop (What's different elsewhere)

Bat hunter

by Danica J. Stark

About a special animal on Borneo.