Document Type

Book Chapter


The Niah Caves complex in northwest Borneo is best known for its early Homo sapiens remains, but the various Niah entrances and nearby caves also contain a wealth of archaeological deposits from later time periods. The rich metal-age record (from c. 2000 years ago) of Niah is nearly exclusively represented by burials, and while some attention has been directed to understanding the West Mouth cemetery zone (e.g. B. Harrisson 1967; Zuraina 1982), other deposits have received less attention. Kain Hitam was one of the last sites in the Niah area to be excavated by Tom and Barbara Harrisson, and only received brief or popular treatment in the published literature (e.g. T. Harrisson 1958, 1960, 1964). Nevertheless, it has been regarded as a remarkable expression of metal-age mortuary ritual and the Kain Hitam rock art has been mentioned numerous times in press (e.g. Ballard et al. 2004; Lape et al. 2007). Based on a study of the field archive and curated materials, we present here details of the Kain Hitam mortuary site. We further assess claims about cultural affinities for the site (e.g. Chêng 1969) and situate Kain Hitam within the larger realm of commentary on Southeast Asian ‘ship-of-the-dead’ rites.