Niah Cave’s West Mouth in Niah National Park (Miri Division, Sarawak) has produced one of the most
spectacular archaeological assemblages associated with early modern humans in Southeast Asia.
Indeed, for many years, knowledge of Sarawak’s prehistory was based principally on the findings from
Niah Cave (e.g., Harrisson 1957, 1958a, 1959, 1972). In 1958, the discovery of a purported 40,000-yearold modern human cranium from West Mouth put Niah Cave firmly on the paleoanthropological map. Not
only did this so-called ‘Deep Skull’ provide a face for the first modern humans in Malaysia, but at the time
it was conceivably the earliest skeletal evidence for modern humans in the world (Kennedy 1979).
Although that distinction was short-lived, the Deep Skull continues to be one of the earliest
representatives of modern humans in Southeast Asia (Krigbaum and Datan, 1999). Such status has
bestowed on it ‘tough love’ from critics over the years who have questioned its age, context, utility, and
authenticity. In this report, a review of past work on the Deep Skull and review of associated human
remains and current research plan is presented.
Niah Cave is situated near the South China Sea amidst lowland rainforest and towering karst.
Collectively grouped in the Subis Limestone Member of the Miocene Tangap Formation (Wall 1967), the
Main Cave occupies the largest and most spectacular limestone massif, a cavernous space ca. 26 acres
(10.5 hectares) in extent (Harrisson 1959). The largest mouth (kuala besar) is referred to as the West
Mouth (Figure 1). Excavations at West Mouth, conducted over the past fifty years, have produced
numerous human remains and much evidence of past human activity that span significant portions of the
last 45,000 years (Barker et al. 2002b). Although skeletal material is fragmentary and deposits complex,
the late Pleistocene and Holocene contexts are invaluable evidence for modern human prehistoric
lifeways in northern Borneo (Bellwood 1997; Jones 1989; Zuraina 1982).
Through the aegis of the Sarawak Museum a number of research teams have focused on the West
Mouth deposits. The bulk of excavations were conducted there between 1954-1967 by Tom Harrisson,
then curator of the Sarawak Museum. Under his direction, tremendous amount of deposit was removed
and some excavated materials analyzed, particularly the fauna, artifacts, and burial context. Provisional
reports of overall site significance, typologies, and notes of excavation progress were published
principally in the Sarawak Museum Journal by Harrisson and colleagues, however, a formal report of the
excavation was never produced. Follow-up research by Zuraina Majid and her team provided a published
synthesis of the site and confirmed the overall antiquity and significance of West Mouth (Zuraina 1982).
Most recently, Graeme Barker and colleagues through the Niah Cave Project (NCP) have re-investigated
remaining deposits and balks, in part, to re-establish context of the Deep Skull and associated remains
(Barker et al. 2000, 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2003).
The West Mouth can be divided into a pre-Neolithic ‘habitation’ area towards the mouth of the cave
and a Neolithic ‘cemetery’ area further in, along the northern wall (see Figure 11-2, Krigbaum and
Manser, this volume). Although excavation methods in the late 1950s were less than ideal, ca. 96” below
original ground surface in the habitation area, deeper levels (spits) were dug in smaller, foot-wide
rectangular units at 3-inch levels. These narrow, deep trenches are referred collectively as ‘Hell’ as
worker’s endured direct afternoon sun during excavation. It was in these deep levels where significant
late Pleistocene discoveries were made in the late 1950s including a human cranium.
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 1
On February 7, 1958, Barbara Harrisson and colleagues discovered a human cranium while carefully
digging in Hell trench H/6. Between 106-110” below original ground surface (ca. 2.5 m) an inverted
cranium was uncovered (Figure 2). The skull, associated with fragments of human postcrania, faunal
remains, and flaked stone, was atypical from other burials at the site lying several feet below the preceramic (pre-Neolithic) and ceramic-associated (Neolithic) burials (Solheim 1958; Harrisson 1959;
Harrisson 1967; Krigbaum and Manser, this volume). Preserved under a large rock, the bone was highly
fragmentary and soft—’subfossil’ and delicate, rather than fossil and hard. Following excavation protocol,
shellac was applied to all exposed bony elements as a preservative, remains were wrapped in cotton, and
the skull was assigned a burial number, No. 73. Several years later, the Deep Skull was classified as a
‘mutilation’ burial due to its secondary nature of deposition and its partial skeletal representation
(Harrisson, 1967).
Celebration centered on the skull, and it remained in situ so that the famous paleoanthropologist
G.H.R. von Koenigswald, visiting Sarawak and the Harrisson dig at the time, could observe the find
before it was removed for transport and analysis (Harrisson 1967; Harrisson, 1958b—unpublished).
Through von Koenigswald’s suggestion, Tom Harrisson approached Kenneth Oakley at The Natural
History Museum (London), and Don Brothwell was offered the task of reconstruction and analysis.
The antiquity of the skull, to its advocates seemed clear and the development of radiocarbon dating in
the mid-1950s proved timely with the ongoing excavations at Niah’s West Mouth. Harrisson was an early
and eager consumer, approaching Groningen Labs (The Netherlands), the leading research and
commercial radiocarbon lab in Europe. Charcoal recovered from nearby units at 100” below original
ground surface produced a 14C date of ca. 40,000 years BP (Solheim 1958; Harrisson 1959; Harrisson
1967; Kennedy 1979). The 1957 Groningen dates and two AMS dates more recently obtained by Michael
Bird and the NCP (Table 1) confirm the antiquity of human presence at West Mouth at or before 40,000
years bp and the overall antiquity of the Deep Skull and associated skeletal remains. Prior to the NCP,
Krigbaum (2001) and Zuraina (1982) provided additional radiocarbon dates from West Mouth, however,
their dates do not approach the three ~ 40 ka radiocarbon dates obtained by Groningen in 1957 and the
NCP in 2001 (see Krigbaum and Manser, this volume).
Table 1: 'Accepted' late Pleistocene uncalibrated 14C Dates ~ 40 ka from Niah Cave
(West Mouth)
Lab No.
GrN-1339C EE -- 96-100"
"Hell" NCP Unit 2 single charcoal
"Hell" NCP Unit 2 single charcoal
C Age
(years BP)
39,820 ± 1000
42,600 ± 670
41,800 ± 620
1, cf. 2, 3
4, 5
4, 5
Groningen 14C dates published with "Gro" prefix were reported prior to correction for the Suess Effect
(Vogel and Waterbolk, 1963). All subsequent dates (post-1962) have the "GrN" prefix. Dates further
revised by Groningen after initial publication have sample numbers with "C" suffix (pers. comm.,
Groningen) and are reported here.
References: 1. Harrisson, 1958a; 2. Vogel and Waterbolk, 1963; 3. Oakley et al. 1975; 4. Barker et al.
2001; 5. Barker et al. 2002a.
Dating skeletal remains by association with nearby charcoal is problematic. This is especially true in
cave deposits, where mixing by random activities at more superficial deposits can disturb deeper
deposits, at the same time push superficial charcoal deeper (Krigbaum 2001). Oakley et al. (1975)
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 2
review the 1957 14C date, by association, referring correctly to the new Groningen designation (GrN) and
adjustment but noting a standard error of 1012. In that same report, they provide the results of chemical
analysis, notably flourine (a relative dating technique) and demonstrate similar fluorine and nitrogen
concentrations in both Deep Skull fragments and associated bat bones. Direct dating of the skull,
particularly for fossil remains of such antiquity, are preferable to dates by association such as charcoal
(Stringer 1986). Krigbaum and Stringer approached Thomas Stafford (Stafford Laboratories, Boulder,
Colorado, USA) who attempted to obtain collagen from two fragments of cranium from The Natural
History Museum collections (see below). Unfortunately, his efforts did not yield positive results. The
potential of electron spin resonance (ESR) dating on tooth enamel is presently being considered,
however, the procedure is also destructive and must be approached in a conservative fashion (e.g., Grün
and Stringer, 1991).
A treasure trove of West Mouth excavation notebooks have been preserved at the Sarawak Museum,
which are an important part of the Harrisson archive in addition to the wealth of excavated material. A
goal of the ongoing Niah Cave Project is to study this archive and make it accessible to future research
(Barker et al. 2000, 2001, 2002a, 2003). Sadly, the Harrisson notebooks specifically addressing the
Deep Skull, its context, and associations have not been located to date. Indeed, the lack of detailed
drawings and stratigraphic context of the Deep Skull discovery and excavation have promoted skeptic
claims that the skull is intrusive, representing a partial burial from more superficial levels of the site (e.g.,
Brose and Wolpoff 1971; Bellwood, 1997; Wolpoff 1999).
Recent research efforts by members of the NCP have focused on the geomorphology and taphonomy
of the faunal assemblage in the vicinity of the Deep Skull (NCP, Unit 2). Their findings have been
reported in the field season reports of the NCP (Barker et al. 2000, 2001, 2002a, 2003) and more recent
publications (e.g., Gilbertson et al. 2005; Rabett et al., 2004). Importantly the different approaches to
interpreting site process and formation underscore the consistent nature of the bone assemblage that
includes the Deep Skull as distinctly different from those deposits which supercede it. The two NCP
radiocarbon dates listed above in Table 1 were likely deposited prior to a mudflow event, which
subsequently buried the Deep Skull and associated remains (Barker et al. 2001). The photographs,
drawings, notebooks, and tags that do exist allow reasonable reconstruction of the events that led to the
Deep Skull’s burial,1 particularly in light of NCP research efforts.
Paleoenvironmental evidence, mainly palynological, indicate a sequence more seasonal than the
humid conditions typical of Sarawak today (Gilbertson et al. 2005). Studies of the Niah fauna confirm
these findings and suggest that the late Pleistocene fauna was distinctly different from that observed in
the lowland rainforest characteristic of the region today (Medway, 1964, 1979; Cranbrook 2000; Harrison,
1996; Rabett et al., 2004). What is considered by some to be an extinct species of pangolin (Manis
paleojavanica) was recovered and together with a greater number of larger-bodied herbivores including
Asian elephant, tapir (now extinct on Borneo), rhinoceros, and banteng, underscore the seasonal
character around Niah prior to and during the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 45-20 ka) compared to that
characteristic of the Niah region today. At 40,000 years BP, the world was considerably cooler and more
arid, and although still tropical, the area around Niah Cave was further inland (ca. 100 km) from the South
China Sea than it is today. More seasonal conditions reached their peak at the Last Glacial Maximum
(21-18 ka), whereby sea levels were 135 m below present-day and air and water temperatures
considerably cooler than present. It is within this environmental context that the Deep Skull and
associated human remains were deposited.
Oakley’s suggestion to Tom Harrisson for Don Brothwell to conduct the osteological analysis of the
Deep Skull was an excellent one. Brothwell’s study of the Deep Skull produced an outstanding report in
1960. The report, published in the Sarawak Museum Journal, presents a cogent analysis of the
specimen, age and sex assessment, morphological discussion, and cast reconstruction. Brothwell was
conservative in his analysis and age/sex determination, particularly because of his unfamiliarity with the
region and the lack of comparative Southeast Asian material in the Natural History Museum collections.
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 3
The Deep Skull is actually a partial calvarium in four parts that includes a principal calotte (parietals,
and frontal), a right occipital/parietal fragment, a fragmentary upper facial skeleton (maxilla) including
molar teeth, and a fragmentary basicranium (Figure 3). There is no mandible associated. Brothwell’s
analysis suggests that the cranium was that of a 15-17 year old adolescent, based on the extent of
development of the third molars. Due to its immature age, he chose not to assign a sex to the specimen.
Despite Brothwell’s expertise and conservatism, Tom Harrisson (in Harrisson 1967:199) claimed the
individual to be a “sub-adult male” while Carlton Coon (1962:412) noted it as “probably female”.
Four maxillary molars were present (as was an unidentified root fragment). Third molars were
unerupted and in their crypts. The right first molar exhibited heavy wear (Figure 4). Brothwell notes that
the basilar suture is almost completely fused, a feature that would normally be considered indicative of
‘adult’ age status. The cranium is delicate and exhibits a fair degree of postmortem distortion along the
“right parietal eminence and at the orbital region” throughout the right portion of the vault and face
(Brothwell 1960:323). This could not be corrected for in his reconstruction, and because of this and
important missing fragments, parts of the cranium remained separate.
The facial skeleton includes the inferior margins of both orbits—the left is square along its mesial
margin. A broad nasal aperture is present, however, the superior portion and nasal bones are not. The
right zygoma shows a moderate canine fossa and overall prognathism is moderate. Brothwell’s
reconstruction (Figure 3) is that of a gracile individual, with prominent (exaggerated) parietal bossing, a
smooth occiput, slight browridge development, and a moderately steep forehead. The face is short and
broad and palate is large and shallow. As for racial affinity, Brothwell suggested that it was Tasmanianlike in appearance, similar in many respects to the more robust adolescent cranium from Talgai
(Queensland, Australia). Thus, the Deep Skull from Niah entered the literature as an unsexed adolescent
with Australo-Melanesian morphology.
Indeed, the most striking observation, other than the overall gracility of the specimen, is the
unerupted upper third molars that were present on the original specimen. These clearly made an
impression on him at the time he elucidated its age and sex. Based on lack of comparative material, and
assuming the cranium was that of a juvenile, he found the best side-by-side comparison to be that of a
Tasmanian juvenile skull (Aus. 80.446) in the collections at The Natural History Museum. The relative
age status of this specimen, and its diminutive affinities, being Tasmanian, make this a prescient
comparison with the Deep Skull (Figure 6).
The Brothwell reconstruction and cast of the Niah Deep Skull (No. 1649) was produced from a set of
master molds that are curated in the Natural History Museum (London). The upper jaw and palate molds
are separate from the calvarium mold, but are stored together.
At the behest of Barbara Harrisson, Kenneth Kennedy of Cornell University took on the task of
assessing the significance of the Deep Skull in human evolutionary studies since its discovery in 1958.
His review was published in Asian Perspectives in 1979 and provides a detailed synthesis of the skull’s
contribution to paleoanthropology. No new interpretation was given with respect to the age and sex of the
individual represented, however, several radiographs were published. That same year the Kennedy
report was published, Joseph Birdsell published a short abstract in American Journal of Physical
Anthropology on his interpretation and analysis of the Deep Skull. Birdsell’s abstract, verbatim, is
provided here (Birdsell, 1979):
A reassessment of the age, sex, and population affinities of the Niah cranium. J.B.
Birdsell, University of California, Los Angeles.
In his generally excellent initial report on the Niah cranium, D. Brothwell identified it
as that of an immature, individual, and hence did not attempt to sex it. He placed its
affinities with the Tasmanians.
With the availability of better aging criteria, involving the basilar suture closure, the
eruption time for maxillary third molars, and tooth wear, both occlusal and interproximal,
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 4
the age of the Niah cranium can best be estimated as that of a young adult, 20 to 30
years of age, and the sex as female. Population affinities are still with the Tasmanians,
but a heightened Negritoid component becomes evident. These revisions have
implications for the first appearance of modern man in Southeast Asia and Australasia.
Birdsell provides a fresh perspective of the skull building upon Brothwell’s findings as presented in the
original 1960 report. Although no manuscript has been located (Gail Kennedy, pers. comm.), there are
clearly two pieces of information that are significant to the Deep Skull’s present interpretation, based on
Birdsell’s abstract. First is the age of the cranium. The advanced stage of wear on the first molar is
inconsistent with sub-adult age and more consistent with young adulthood. This is certainly true based
on ongoing comparative wear studies of the West Mouth burial series. Additionally, more weight should
be placed on the basilar suture and less on the inconsistent timing of third molar development and
eruption. Agenesis and variable formation and eruption rates of the third molar are particularly prevalent
in East Asian populations. A second important point, inferred from his abstract, is that if indeed this is a
gracile young adult, it is likely female, and is likely diminutive in build and overall stature. Although
Birdsell does not overtly state that the Deep Skull represents an individual of Negrito ethnicity, he does
suggest that it is not out of the realm of possibility and indeed, it may be something to consider. Indeed
H. Ling Roth writes years ago (1896:262):
The question, “Are there any Negritoes in Borneo?” is one of great interest, and has been
as yet by no means solved.
In addition to the Deep Skull, there are other finds of paleoanthropological relevance from West
Mouth Hell deposits. These include additional skull fragments. a left femur, a left talus, and a right
proximal tibia.
Deep Skull Fragments
Brothwell identified several cranial fragments among the material sent to London that could not be
included in his reconstruction. He writes (1960:323):
A number of small pieces, already separate on arrival in London, display no clear point of
union with the larger reconstructed areas, and as yet defy exact positioning in relation to
These and associated material remains are presently curated in The Natural History Museum,
Department of Palaeontology, Vertebrates and Anthropology Division. Indeed there are several
identifiable large fragments that were used in recent radiocarbon direct dating attempts on the Deep Skull
(see above). Other dating attempts using U-Series have also been made using this material (Chris
Stringer, pers. comm.).
At the Sarawak Museum, further exploration in Hell Trench boxes revealed two bags of associated
skull fragments from H/6 at 105”, dated II/58 (February, 1958). These finds were not sent to Brothwell.
They were, however, mentioned in an unpublished report by Tom Harrisson, dated to 19.2.58. Here,
Harrisson states “Bone includes a human skull (with teeth), other human bone (not from the same
individual), pig, deer, rodents, tortoise and fish…” (Harrisson, 1958b:6). However one may interpret
Harrisson’s oversight to these important pieces of the Deep Skull puzzle, it is now clear that there are a
considerable number of bone fragments both in London and in Kuching at the Sarawak Museum that
belong to the Deep Skull. Many of these remains are important in contributing to a new virtual
reconstruction that will assist in attaching the face to the calvarium. These include a right temporal
fragment with zygoma, two portions of basicranium with occipital condyles and associated foramen, and a
parietal fragment all that mend with the calvarium proper. At the time of this writing, this work is underway
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 5
(e.g., Stringer 2002). Table 2 identifies the fragments presently curated with the Deep Skull at the
Sarawak Museum.
Table 2: Fragments Associated with Deep Skull
R. occipital condyle
L. occipital condyle
L. occipital frag.
Ethmoid frag. (cribriform plate)
Ethmoid frag.
Vomer frag.
Sphenoid ? frag.
Parietal ? frag. (~mends)
R. temporal/sphenoid (mends)
R. temporal frag. (mastoid process)
R. temporal frag. (zygomatic process)
R. zygomatic frag. (mends)
L. orbit frag. – cranial frag. 1A (cast, submitted for 14C dating)
L. orbit frag. – cranial frag. IB (cast, submitted for 14C dating)
L. temporal frag. – cranial frag II (cast, submitted for 14C dating)
L. temporal frag. (includes glenoid and zygomatic process)
10+ “doubtful” fragments
Three Tags associated with above:
1. Niah Skeleton at H/6 106” doubtful fragments
2. Niah H/6 105” Fragments of human skull broken off initially II/58
3. Niah H/6 105” human bone belonging to skull (see field-notes p. 11) II/58
Deep Femur
Barbara Harrisson (1967:143) states “The deep skull (73) had two indistinct long-bones directly
underlying the skull vault.” In 1996, while working at the Sarawak Museum on Niah Cave collections, four
pieces of a left femur were discovered, previously unidentified (Figure 5). Reconstruction and preliminary
analysis of this Deep Femur demonstrates it belongs to an individual diminutive in stature, and yet fully
mature (Figure 6). It’s adult status is therefore suggestive of belonging to the same individual as the
Deep Skull. Indeed, upon examination of the in situ photograph (Figure 2), the proximal midshaft
fragment (Figure 5B) is evident below the inverted cranium.
Stature estimates (Konigsberg et al. 1998) based on a rough estimate of maximum femur length of
370 mm, suggest an individual about 4.5 feet tall (Figure 7). Radiographs of the distal portion of the
femur show no sign of epiphyseal scar, which if present would indicate a subadult individual. Although it
remains unclear if the Deep Femur and Deep Skull are from the same individual, it is suggestive given
their close association in Trench H/6. However, because this is clearly a secondary deposit, it is unclear
whether this will ever be determined. Two other notable findings, are however, less certain in terms of
their direct association with the Deep Skull/Femur.
Deep Talus
In 1963, Dirk Hooijer (Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie, Leiden) published notes on faunal
remains sent to him by Tom Harrisson that included a human talus (left). His description is brief (Hooijer,
Homo sapiens L.
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 6
In addition to the skull from “Hell” (106” – 110”) recorded by Brothwell (1961) there is an
astragalus sin. of the “modern” human type from HR1, 102” – 105”.
Unfortunately, this specimen has not been located in the Niah Cave collection in Leiden and its
present status is therefore lost. However, based on other finds that have been made, human remains at
levels comparable to that of the Deep Skull are increasingly being identified, some of which are reported
below (Piper and Rabett, pers. comm.).
Deep Tibia
Recently, Ryan Rabett and Phil Piper, working on the Hell faunal remains, identified a right proximal
tibia fragment (Figure 8). Work and reconstruction of this fragment of tibia is underway however, it can be
noted that it is not from the same trench as the Deep Skull (H/6) but several feet due West, in Trench
H12. The tibia is a partial proximal portion, the anterior face intact, however, the posterior section is not.
The tibial plateau is intact and there is clear union between the epiphysis and the diaphysis. Again, like
the femur, this is consistent with an individual who is a young adult rather than a sub-adult.
The Deep Skull has received mixed interpretations over the years regarding its antiquity, its biological
age, its sex, and its racial affiliation. Indeed, there are studies in the literature that discount the utility of
the Deep Skull outright (e.g., Kamminga and Wright 1988) citing its poor provenience (context), its
juvenile (subadult) age status, and postmortem distortion. In spite of these claims, however, there
remains little doubt that the Deep Skull is, and has always been, a significant component to discussions
on the evolution of modern humans in Southeast Asia. Critics, most notably Bellwood (1997) and Wolpoff
(1999) have raised doubts about the Deep Skull’s suggested antiquity. Poor stratigraphic control at the
site suggests to these authors that the Deep Skull (and associated remains) may be part of an intrusive
burial from a higher level of the site that somehow got mixed into deeper deposits. Additional concern
has been raised about the accuracy of the early radiocarbon dates on charcoal from the vicinity of the
Deep Skull (Harrisson 1958a). A pattern of radiocarbon dates as outlined by Harrisson (1972), Zuraina
(1982), and Krigbaum (2001), however, suggest that deeper levels at the West Mouth are less disturbed
and mixed than are upper levels, where most of the pre-Neolithic and Neolithic burials occur. Further,
recent work by Graeme Barker and colleagues through the NCP have demonstrated through detailed
geomorphological and faunal analysis studies, including new AMS radiocarbon dates that the Deep Skull
and its original depositional context are quite secure. Certainly a direct date would assist in establishing
with absolute certainty the age of the Deep Skull. But its context as a late Pleistocene hominin seems
perfectly valid.
In comparative studies, the Deep Skull is placed alongside early skeletal material from Tabon Cave
(Palawan, The Philippines) and Wajak (Java, Indonesia) as the earliest evidence of modern humans in
the region (e.g., Coon 1962; Jacob 1967; Howells 1973; Birdsell 1977; Bulbeck 1981, 1982; Kamminga
and Wright 1988; Brown 1992; Habgood 1989, 1992; Bellwood 1997; Storm 2001; Dizon et al. 2002). An
important Master’s Thesis by Bulbeck (1981) critically reviewed this material in relation to later Holocene
population replacement in Southeast Asia. Bulbeck discusses a number of different hypotheses
regarding the evolution of human modernity in Southeast Asia and essentially concurs that all three
specimens have Australo-Melanesian characters, in contrast to the more gracile features of southern
Mongoloid (Austronesians) who may have replaced/integrated with what Australo-Melanesian people
were in Borneo sometime during the mid-late Holocene (but see Krigbaum and Manser, this volume).
Most researchers tend to concur with Brothwell’s original assessment that the skull is a gracile individual
with Australo-Melanesian morphology much like the Australian Aborigines, Melanesians, and Negrito
populations present in greater Australasia today. Most consider the cranium not to have Austronesian
(Southern Mongoloid) morphology, a pattern characteristic of all indigenous peoples of Borneo today.
One notable exception is Wu Xinzhi (1987) who suggests Mongoloid features present in the Niah cranium
that ally it with fossils like Liujiang and not with early Australian skulls. Birdsell (1977, 1979), as
discussed above, believed the skull may represent a Negrito component based on its extreme gracility
and young adult age. Recent reconstruction work on the Deep Femur, in particular, suggest this is not an
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 7
unreasonable proposition but one that requires more material and comparative studies to make such a
claim. Ongoing comparative analysis should assist towards this end.
Based on Birdsell’s initial reaction and our ongoing analyses of the Deep Skull and associated human
remains, it is here considered the individual is a young adult female, probably in her early 20s. Work on
this material is in active collaboration with Chris Stringer, Don Brothwell, Jessica Manser, Phil Piper, Ryan
Rabett, and others. At this writing, the present state of 3-D morphometric analysis does not permit new
metrics to be presented nor a new reconstruction to be realized. CT-scans of the Deep Skull and all
associated cranial fragments was conducted in London (March 1999), and these data are being accessed
and analyzed. Plans are to reproduce stereolithographic replicas of each piece to provide a new
reconstruction of the Deep Skull based on all known elements. In all likelihood, the outcome will not differ
much from the Brothwell reconstruction; however, it will contain additional bony elements that will facilitate
measurement of the craniofacial skeleton and permit bona fide inclusion of the Deep Skull in
paleoanthropological studies of modern humans in Southeast Asia. Adopting the new 3-D technology will
also allow for accurate mirroring of portions of the skull that are missing on their respective side, and
removal of distortion along portions of the original specimen.
Individual researchers and coordinated research teams in conjunction with the Sarawak Museum and
the NCP are exploring and refining the context, significance, and status of the Deep Skull. Renewed
efforts at Niah Cave underscore the importance of this late Pleistocene hominid from Malaysia, the
earliest skeletal representative in present-day Sarawak. Although interpretations have been mixed as to
the skull’s context and antiquity, there is little doubt of the overall archaeological significance of these
early human remains recovered from the West Mouth. New reconstruction efforts and analysis of these
remains will provide an important step towards better understanding Malaysian prehistory and the biology
of early human hunter-gatherers in Sarawak in the late Pleistocene.
Thanks to Prof. Dato’ Zuraina Majid and her colleagues and staff for their dedication to Malaysian
prehistory and their invitation to contribute to this volume. Colleagues and staff at the Sarawak Museum,
especially Dr. Sanib Said, Director, and Edmund Kurui are acknowledged, as is Prof. Chris Stringer and
Robert Kruzynski at The Natural History Museum (London) for the unwavering support in these research
efforts. Thanks also to the following: Fred Spoor (Univ. College London), Tom Stafford (Stafford
Laboratories), Bill Sanders (Museum of Paleontology, Univ. Michigan), Graeme Barker (Univ. Cambridge)
and all colleagues and friends in the Niah Cave Project.
Barker, G, H Barton, P Beavitt, S Chapman, M Derrick, C Doherty, L Farr, D Gilbertson, C Hunt, W Jarvis,
J Krigbaum, B Maloney, S. McLaren, P Pettitt, B Pyatt, T Reynolds, G Rushworth, and M Stephens
2000 “The Niah Caves Project: Preliminary report on the first (2000) season” Sarawak Museum
Journal 55 (ns 76), 111-149.
Barker, G, D Badang, H Barton, P Beavitt, M Bird, P Daly, C Doherty, D Gilbertson, I Glover, C Hunt, J
Manser, S. McLaren, V Paz, B Pyatt, T Reynolds, J Rose, G Rushworth, and M Stephens
2001 “The Niah Cave Project: the second (2001) season of fieldwork” Sarawak Museum
Journal 56 (ns 77), 37-119.
Barker, G, H Barton, M Bird, F Cole, P Daly, D Gilbertson, C Hunt, J Krigbaum, C Lampert, H Lewis, L
Lloyd-Smith, J Manser, S. McLaren, F Menotti, V Paz, P Piper, B Pyatt, R Rabett, T Reynolds, M
Stephens, J. Thompson, M Trickett, and P Whittaker
2002a “The Niah Cave Project: the third (2002a) season of fieldwork” Sarawak Museum Journal
57 (ns 78), 87-177.
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 8
Barker, G, H Barton, P Beavitt, M Bird, P Daly, D Gilbertson, C Hunt, J Krigbaum, H Lewis, J Manser, S
McLaren, V Paz, P Piper, B Pyatt, R Rabett, T Reynolds, J Rose, G Rushworth, and M Stephens
2002b “Prehistoric foragers and farmers in Southeast Asia: renewed investigations at Niah
Cave, Sarawak” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 68, 147-164.
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Figure 1 Niah Cave’s West Mouth looking out (West). Area of archaeological focus is along the North
wall, to the right of the roofed walkway.
Figure 2 Deep Skull in situ in “Hell” trench H/6, 106-110” below original ground surface. (Photograph
courtesy of Sarawak Museum, originally published in Solheim, 1958)
Figure 3 Cast of the Brothwell reconstruction of the Deep Skull cranium (lateral view). (Photograph
courtesy of Sarawak Museum)
Figure 4. Inferior view of palate, showing occlusal wear of RM1 and RM2. Note unerupted LM3 and RM3
crowns are missing.
Figure 5. Deep Femur pieces, as identified in the Harrisson archive at the Sarawak Museum. A)
proximal shaft, B) proximal mid-shaft (see Figure 2 under Deep Skull), C) distal mid-shaft, D) distal
femoral condyle fragment. Tags: A) Niah H/6 108" leg or arm bone from under human skull Fragment No,
1; B) Niah H/6 108" leg or arm bone from under human skull Fragment No. 2; C) Niah Skeleton at H/6
106" II/58; D) Niah HE11 110" 31/7/59 ?Human “hipbone” from direct under deep skull.
Figure 6. Reconstructed Deep Femur (left) and cast replica. A) Anterior view, cast above; and B)
Posterior view, cast above.
Figure 7. Stature estimate for Deep Femur (left) using formula derived by Konigsberg et al. (1998) and a
rough estimate of femoral maximum length of 370 mm, indicated by the X. Comparative human data
courtesy of Osbjorn Pearson.
Figure 8. Deep Tibia (right). A) Anterior view, B) Posterior View, C) Superior (oblique) view. D) Tag:
Niah H/12 98” bone 2 part of should blade + fragments of large animal.
Krigbaum and Ipoi p. 12