Niah Caves

Niah Caves


Location: Sarawak, Borneo  Map

Park Office: Open 8am- 5pm


Description of Niah Caves

Niah Caves National Park are located in the district of Miri in Sarawak province on the North part of the Borneo Island. The closest city is Batu Niah town about 2 miles South of Niah Caves. This beautiful natural passageways were created by water flow in the limestone mountains 20 million years ago during Early Miocene. You can get to Niah Caves by taking a trail from the park headquarters to the entrance to the caves. It is fairly easy 3.5 km (2 miles) hike through a Malaysian rainforest. You need to cross a river in a small boat until you reach Visitor Center. The entrance if free and it is open between 8am- 5pm. You can rent a source of light (flashlight or a torch) if you want to go deeper inside these natural underground passages.


Besides its natural beauty Niah Caves are also a site of some of the most spectacular and interesting findings of early human settlement in the region. Archeological digs under supervision of Tom and Barbara Harrisson in 1954- 67 reveals that humans inhabited Niah Caves as early as 40,000 years ago. Their most significant find was a fossil of an anatomically modern human skull that became known simply as the "Deep Skull". It was an oldest human burial on the island of Borneo. Other findings include burials, cave paintings, canoes and various tools. Ancient people apparently assumed that Niah Caves were entrance gates to the World of the dead. They brought their dead ones in small canoes that served them as coffins and buried them here with all the items that they needed in the after life, pottery, jewelry, sea shells and other items. Their bodies were painted by natural pigments collected from a Pterocarpus indicus, a type of the local deciduous tree. Additionally rock paintings were made on Niah Caves walls. These figures are mysterious and scientists have hard time interpreting. But it is likely that these were used in religious practices or were made to commemorate the memory of those who were buried here.



The caves are part of the Niah National Park. Niah National Park was 31.4 km² when it was established in 1974.

The main cave, the Great Cave of Niah, is located in a limestone mountain called Subis and consists of a number of voluminous chambers with very high ceilings. It is approximately one kilometer long in a north-south direction and approximately half a kilometer wide. It is separated from the main Gunung Subis complex by a valley approximately 150 to 200 meters wide.

The Gunung Subis complex is approximately 394 meters above sea level at its highest point. The entire Gunung Subis limestone complex is located approximately 17 kilometers inland from the South China Sea and 65 kilometers west of the city of Miri. It is roughly shaped like a heart, measuring five kilometers from north to south and four kilometers wide. The mountain (Gunung) Subis is surrounded by lowlands with gently sloping hills, from which the limestone massif rises quite abruptly from the jungle. Some cliffs are over 100 meters high. Although this cave system is not a very large one compared to others in Sarawak, it is estimated that it covers approximately 10 hectares and that the cave roof rises 75 meters high in some places. Geologically, the limestone is part of the Subis Formation. It dates back approximately 20 to 16 million years to the early Miocene.



Niah Cave is located about 90 kilometers or 1 1/2 hours from Miri, Sarawak, this cave shows evidence of early human life in this area.

It was formed as a coral reef at the end of the Miocene before the movement of the earth lifted it and eroded it to form a cave. Niah Cave has an area of 12 hectares and the area inside is estimated to be three times the size of a football field. Besides the main entrance of Niah Cave, there are 5 other openings with doors behind them. It is known as the Big Mouth, Lubang Tulang, Lubang Gunus, Gan Kira and Lubang Tahi Menimbun.


Niah Cave National Park

Niah Cave is also Sarawak's smallest national park, but it is the most important and attracts tourists. This is because human fossils have been found in Niah Cave that are 40 thousand years old. thus making it an early site of human presence in Southeast Asia. In addition, the discovery of ancient human tools has made Gua Niah the most important ancient research site in the world.

Gua Niah National Park covers an area of 3,138 hectares of limestone hills and forests. It was gazetted as a National Historical Monument in 1958 and on 23 November 1974 gazetted as a National Park and opened to the public on 1 January 1975.



Alfred Russel Wallace investigated the caves during his expedition to Kalimantan in 1855. He wrote about the caves as a potential place to find important hominin fossils in a letter to Charles Darwin. British archaeologists excavated the site in 1869-1870, but failed to find any important findings and abandoned the site.

Tom Harrison's 1958 study
In 1958, an excavation led by Tom Harrisson, Sarawak Museum curator and amateur archeologist and his wife Barbara Harrison; he has uncovered a human skull on the west side of the main entrance of Gua Niah, which is estimated to be 40,000 years old. They found Tulang Dalam in 1958. This skull is the earliest modern human (Homo sapiens) skull in Southeast Asia where it was found at a level where stone tools had been previously found along with charcoal that gave a radiocarbon date of around 40,000 years ago. This is the earliest evidence of human occupation in Borneo.

In addition to evidence of Paleolithic human presence in the Late Pleistocene period, the explorers also found evidence of occupation in the early Holocene period by Mesolithic foragers, and later burial sites by people who produced pottery around 4,000 years ago.

All traces of human occupation in the area such as stone tools, cooking tools and decorations made of bone, shell, or stone have proven that Niah Cave has been inhabited for a long time until the palaeolithic era (early Stone Age). The Pleistocene era ended with the beginning of the Holocene era around 10,000 years ago.


Route to Niah National Park

The route and distance to Niah Cave National Park if and if from Kota Kuching, the capital of Sarawak Bumi Kenyalang. is about 628 km and will take at least 11-12 hours. Niah National Park can also be visited by all visitors through various road networks that connect this area with the city of Miri or the city of Bintulu. The distance from Miri city is about 90 km via the Coastal Highway, which takes 1 hour and a half or 90 minutes to travel, while from Bintulu City Center it is about 120 km (2 hours).

Niah National Park can be reached by private vehicle, taxi or express bus that goes from Miri city to Bintulu or from Bintulu to Miri city by stopping at Simpang Ngu. From the intersection, visitors can use the rented vehicles available around the intersection for a certain price. Please inform the driver to drop you off at the Niah National Park Office.


Facilities at Niah Cave

Taman Negara Niah also provides residential facilities for tourists such as campsites, hostels and chalets with prices set by the government. There is also a cafeteria here to allow tourists to get food supplies because all the facilities in Taman Negara Niah are not allowed to cook. However, tourists are allowed to make barbeque outside the accommodation.


Archaeological and paleoanthropological finds

Fossils have shown that anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) lived in the Great Cave of Niah as early as the Upper Pleistocene; In total, more than 250 individual bones and bones of partial skeletons were discovered. The most significant find is a human skull (known as the “Deep Skull”) discovered in 1958 and dated to be between 45,000 and 39,000 years old; The find is considered the oldest evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens on the Southeast Asian islands.

Exploration of the caves was begun by Tom Harrisson in collaboration with Barbara Harrisson in the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time, local universities and foreign scientists have continued to conduct research, and many articles have been published about the caves, most notably in the Sarawak Museum Journal. For example, the site was re-examined from 1999 to 2003 by a British-Malaysian research group in order to check the accuracy of the work of both Harrisons, for example using newer dating methods.

Items found in the Niah Caves include Pleistocene tools, Neolithic axes, disc axes (adzes), pottery, shell jewelry, boats, wicker mats, and in more recent levels iron tools, glass and Iron Age ceramics.

The “Picture Cave”, located in its own, much smaller limestone rock, contains rock carvings that are approximately 1,200 years old, including wooden coffins designed as “ships of the dead”.