A 2300 yr record of sago and rice use from the southern Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Samantha Elsie Jones, Chris Hunt, Paula Reimer

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Rice and sago are today important staples for many subsistence farmers and nomadic hunter-gatherers living in interior Borneo, but the cultural antiquity of these staples remains poorly understood. This study examines a 2300 yr sedimentary record from a palaeochannel near the village of Pa’Dalih in the southern Kelabit Highlands. Pollen and phytolith evidence indicate significant use of the sago palm Eugeissona near the channel during this period. Oryza phytoliths likely belonging to domesticated rice varieties are also recorded, although rice may have been used to a lesser extent than the sago palms. A rise in cultural activity takes place between c. 1715 and 1600 cal. BP, shown by increased frequency of fires.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)708-720
Number of pages13
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number5
Early online date6 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - May 2013

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the Sarawak Forestry Department and Kuching Herbarium for permission to carry out fieldwork, the extraction of samples and use of facilities at the Sarawak Herbarium (SAR). We are very grateful to Dr Kit Pearce who assisted in the collection and identification of plants for a modern pollen reference collection, Ipoi Datan from the National Museum of Sarawak, Ulum from Bario and Belaan Paran for their assistance in the collection of modern samples. Thank you to Reedy in Bario and Henry in Pa’Dalih for their assistance in the field. We would also like to thank everyone from the Cultured Rainforest Project for the assistance and support provided in the field: Dr Graeme Barker, Jefferory (Zyrtec Mchanagan), Ian Ewart, Rose Ferraby, Chris Gosden, Dr Huw Barton, Daniel Britton, Ben Davenport, Dr Monica Janowski, Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith, Borbála Nyíri, Beth Upex and Dr Lucy Farr. Thank you also for the advice provided by Dr Premathilake, and John Davidson who assisted in some of the laboratory preparations, as well as Ron Reimer, Professor Valerie Hall, Professor Joanthan Pilcher and Dr Maarten Blaauw. Finally we would like to thank the reviewers and editor whose comments have significantly helped to improve the manuscript

This project was funded by the AHRC.


  • cultural
  • Eugeissona
  • Kelabit Highlands
  • late Holocene
  • Oryza sativa
  • Pa'Dalih
  • rice
  • sago palms


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