Ancient shipwrecks have been found in the state of Kedah in Malaysia which indicate that there could be a civilisation older than that of ninth century Cambodia's Angkor Wat and the 12th century Borobodur Temple in Indonesia.
Talks are currently being held between the Kedah state government and the federal government as well as several federal agencies over funding for the excavation works which are expected to be very high.
In an interview with Malaysia's national news agency Bernama, Kedah's Religious, Siamese Community Affairs, Tourism and Heritage, Public Works Committee chairman Mohamed Rawi Abdul Hamid said the shipwrecks at the Sungai Batu archaeological site appear to be the oldest civilisation in Southeast Asia.
The ancient shipwrecks were embedded in the mud of an old river which once flowed through the historical site of Kedah Tua thousands of years ago.
"The archaeologists stumbled on between five and seven ancient ships or barges. The masts (of the shops) were still visible. The ancient ships or barges measure 40 to 50 feet in length.
"All this while, the archaeologists were conducting research in the mangroves of the coastal areas, but with the use of satellite technology, were able to identify the exact location of the ancient river," he said.
Various relics over 1,900 years old (110 AD) had been found at the Sungai Batu archaeological site located at an oil palm plantation near Sungai Petani since 2009.
When contacted by Bernama, Universiti Sains Malaysia Global Archaeological Research Centre Director Professor Mokhtar Saidin confirmed the discovery of the ancient ships.
In addition, a circle-shaped monument which was probably used for worship dating back to 110 AD was also discovered using the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) technique.
The Star said the discovery of the shipwrecks may force a rewrite of Southeast Asian history, making the Malaysian settlement as the oldest in the region.
The shipwrecks "hide tales of merchants sailing into an industrial town here populated by a mysterious culture in search of the most vital commodity for war at the time: iron," the newspaper said.
Mokhtar said that uncovering the wreckage would tell archaeologists where they had come from, saying that the existence of several jetties on the ancient river indicated that there was international demand for iron smelters based in the town.
"Knowing where the ships were from will give us another lead on who ran this town," he told the Star.
He said OSL readings of the ruins "show that this town is about 2,500 years old and it thrived for many centuries, even before Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam spread to this region."
An archaeological team member, Azman Abdullah told the newspaper that signs of the first shipwreck was unearthed in 2011 and they unearthed a 2 metre-long mast head.
"The wood had softened but it was still miraculously well preserved. We were excited and dug through the wet mud everyday," Azman said. However, the excavation pit collapsed in 2012 after they reached a depth of 5 metres.
The pit is now filled with water and has become a small pond. "We prevented the mast head from being buried again and we still dive down to check it occasionally," he said.