Emeritus Professor Dato' Dr Siti Zuraina binti Abdul Majid, FASc
To be a pioneer is no easy task and to some, it is merely a dream. Yet, when you give your best effort and passion, success will come to you. Carrying the title of the first archaeologist in Malaysia, Emeritus Professor Dato’ Dr Siti Zuraina binti Abdul Majid FASc, is an anthropologist. She is renowned for developing the Malaysian archaeology and teaching the next generation of archaeologists. Her well-known archaeological discoveries include the Palaeolithic site of Kota Tampan and the Palaeolithic skeleton of the Perak Man, in Lenggong, which may be regarded as Malaysia’s first “capital”. Her research also established that early man’s migratory route from Africa to Australia was through Peninsular Malaysia, thus putting Malaysia on the archaeological map of the world.
“Archaeologists should excavate meticulously, record it honestly, and be grounded in archaeological ethics, as they write a nation’s history.”
- Emeritus Professor Dato’ Dr Siti Zuraina Abdul Majid -
The Perak Man also provided the earliest evidence of a rare birth defect known as Brachymesophalangia
Type A2, an important contribution to medical history. In addition, the discovery of the Perak Man resulted in the first-ever disclosure of a Palaeolithic burial ceremony in Southeast Asia, enriching the historical records of our country and the region.
Excavation of the Perak Man, Gua Gunung Runtuh, Lenggong, 1990
Such outstanding excavation and exploration research into the nation’s past which had a global impact also led Lenggong Valley to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These discoveries allowed her to secure many national and international scholarships, fellowships and grants for the research. Through her influential leadership as well, Dr Professor Zuraina managed to obtain UNESCO inscriptions for the historical Melaka and George Town. She was also instrumental in obtaining the Memory of the World inscription for Batu Bersurat Terengganu. In short, at the International level, her involvement in UNESCO has brought Malaysian heritage to the forefront.
Defending the nomination of Lenggong as a UNESCO World Heritage site in
St Petersburg in 2012
Having successfully developed archaeology as a discipline and established the only centre for archaeology in Malaysia, she was later asked to head the newly formed Department of National Heritage in 2006, following the new National Heritage Act that the Parliament had passed in 2005. As the Director-General of the Department of National Heritage, she put in place the administrative procedures to protect and preserve all types of heritage, tangible and intangible, while creating public awareness on heritage conservation.
She has received numerous accolades and honors throughout the years for her contribution to Malaysia’s historical and cultural heritage. She received the Women at 50 Yale 150 Award from her alma mater
Yale University in the United States in 2020. In addition, since 2017 she has served as Heritage Advisor to HRH Sultan Selangor. She also received the Research Excellence Award from USM in 2001, induction into the Academy Science Malaysia (FASc) in 2017, selection as Malaysia’s Head of Delegation at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee from 2011 to 2015, and other honours and awards.
Professor Zuraina has been building the groundwork for the advancement of archaeology as a field of study in Malaysia since the 1970s. She has excavated and researched numerous sites in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. All in all, she left an indelible mark in the archaeological field of Malaysia by successfully advocating for the preservation and conservation of the country’s archaeological heritage at the national and international level. At the local level, she established the scientific infrastructure needed, i.e., currently known as USM Centre for Global Archaeological Research to train protégées and scholars for the purpose of further advancing archaeology as a discipline in Malaysia. As one of her mentorship initiatives, Professor Zuraina taught and oversaw Master’s and PhD students at USM with the goal of raising the profile of archaeology in Malaysia through training the next generation.
Teaching USM students in the field
She has enlightened us on our prehistoric past and given Malaysia a key place in the story of Early Man in the world. On a broader scale, she brought Malaysian archaeology and heritage to the world through her research and UNESCO inscriptions.