Just a 10-minute drive from Ipoh, Perak, an ancient diary endures alongside the sights and sounds of the state’s capital. Older than living memory, the Gua Tambun (Tambun cave) rock art’s existence and importance among those who live nearby is as obscure as its origins. The paintings along the walls of this rock shelter make up the oldest surviving red painting (haematite) rock art site in Peninsular Malaysia. It’s estimated to date back 2,500 and 4,000 years; some even believe it has been around since the late Holocene period (12,000 years ago).

While neighbouring towns and cities rapidly developed over the decades, archaeologists have been attempting to turn back the clock on the site of the rock art—a ledge located 50m above the current ground level.

More than 600 rock art images can be found with various animal, human, geometric and abstract motifs covering the cliff face. They are situated approximately 6m above the floor, with the highest at 25m. It was gazetted by the Ipoh City Council in 1986, declared a National Heritage site in 2010, and reopened in September 2018 after a temporary closure to clean up the paths to the site. But the prehistoric rock art is weathered, vandalised and fading.

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Nadiah Rosli

Nadiah Rosli is a freelance journalist and conservation communicator based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She believes that an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge is a pretty fantastic thing, and focuses on the intersection of science with nature, culture and heritage. Her work has been featured in VICE (Motherboard), Scidev.net, The New Straits Times, The Borneo Post, and others.