Whoever visits the Niah Caves in Malaysia, in the north-western part of Borneo island, is bound to sweat. First during the march through the forest, then on the final ascent to the caves. In 1997, as I stood for the first time in the western entrance of the caves (picture above), I was exhausted - but felt blessed. The sight more than compensated for the effort. Caverns up to seventy meters high, as big as cathedrals, surrounded me, and above me thousands of birds and bats were buzzing, their chirping and clicking sounds filling the air.
But the Niah Caves are not known for their enormous size - they cover more than ten hectares - or their breath-taking fauna, but rather for their because of a sensational archaeological find. In 1958 the British adventurer Tom Harrisson discovered a 40,000-year-old human skull in the west entrance during excavations. Later investigations revealed that our ancestors buried their fellow men here 50,000 years ago. Even today, the caves still are used by local population, albeit for something less morbid: The nests of the native swifts are taken out and sold for a lot of money to Chinese traders. They consist of the protein-rich saliva of birds and are considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine.
As told to by Kai Schnier