SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

The Islamic Sultanate of Brunei: Past and Present Culture

17th January - 22nd March 2008

This exhibition contains artifacts from the Sungai Limau Manis archaeological site as well as objects from the collection of His Royal highness the Sultan of brunei.

The Sungai Limau Manis archaeological site

The site is located approximately 22km from Bandar Seri Begawan, on the bank of Sungai Limau Manis, a tributary of the Brunei River. Kampong Limau Manis is a typical village located at Mukim Pengkalan Batu in the Brunei Muara District. To the north is the main road that links Kampong Junjungan, Kampong Limau Manis and Kuala Lurah. The site is also accessible by the river about 27km from Kota Batu and 30.5km from Terusan Kupang. The discovery has proved that this village is rich in archaeological find. Buried under the river, the largest and richest finding in the history of Brunei Darussalam archaeological records were discovered.

Rivers are a natural source used by human beings since ancient times. The continuous use of the river has left us a lot of evidence from the past but also many mysteries. the site of Sungai Limau Manis continues this trend. 

Sungai Limau Manis, found in early 2002, is the most recent archaeological site of Brunei Darussalam. It is one of the most important archaeological findings since Kota Batu (1950s),Sungai Lumut (1968), Terusan Kupang (1974) and The Brunei Shipwreck (1997).

The site was discovered by chance by Syarikat Normila Sdn. Bhd. during the widening and deepening of the Limau Manis River. The findings were reported to the Archaeology Section of the brunei Museums by one of the village residences on 19th October 2002. Archaeological research began on 21st October 2002.

Through the research and rescue works conducted by the Archaeology Section, a lot of artifacts were collected such as wooden objects, Chinese coins, shells, human bones and skulls, gold, beads, stones, bronze bangles, etc. The majority of the artifacts are ceramics dated from the Song to Yuan Dynasty (10-14 century AD). A small number of Ming and Ch'ing blue and white as well as Siamese and Vietnamese ware were also found. So far, more than 50,000 ceramic shards have been collected from the Limau Manis site.

The abundant quantities of archaeological artifacts discovered in this vast area proves that the Sungai Limau Manis site was the largest settlement area in I the 1Oth-14th centuries AD (based on the dating of Chinese ceramics). The discovery of such artifacts like iron slag, crucibles, metals objects, boat remnants, wooden mortars, coins and others shows that the people practiced daily activities like fishing, collecting shells, farming, metal smiting, trading, etc. The people were pagan and practiced animism.The site declined when Kota Batu became the capital of Brunei and a major settlement area and trade centre.

Among the findings have been:
  • Ceramics - 52,614 sherds
  • Chinese coins - 1,047 pieces
  • Beads and glass bracelets - 151 pieces
  • Wooden materials - 202 pieces
  • Stone objects - 125 pieces
  • Metal objects - 46 pieces
  • Human skulls and bones - 16 pieces
  • Animal bones - 37 pieces
  • Turtle shells - 22 pieces
  • Crucibles - 15 pieces
  • Net sinkers - 9 pieces

The archaeological evidence shows Llimau Manis, and Brunei as a whole, had trade relationships during the Song and Yuan Dynasty. The trade relations between China and Brunei, also known as Po-ni, are evident from the 9th century onwards. Apart from the findings of Song ceramics in Brunei, the periodic tributary missions during that time indicate a level of commercial activity. the Chinese were well aware that the finest quality camphor could be found in Brunei. This material was key to Brunei's importance in international trade. In 1225 Zhao Rugua, Inspector General of Foreign Trade in Fujian, wrote "Nau-tzi (camphor) comes from Po-ni... and (secondly) it also comes from the country of Pin-su (the Baros region of north Sumatra)". He also described the position of brunei as the most important in the Eastern Ocean and stated that Brunei served as an entrepot for regional trade.

Observations made at Limau Manis River show that the chinese junks could not enter the river due to the river's narrowness. it is believed a junk could drop anchor at the river mouth of Limau Manis and carry out trade through retail boats. The retail boats would draw up alongside the Chinese junks and load/unload trade goods. The the retail bats would transport the goods upriver to the Limau Manis site. This theory is supported by the discovery of boat remnants which were made in southeast Asia. The remnants used wooden dowels, boat technology typical of southeast Asia.