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10 December 2006
176 prehistoric caves discovered in Thailand

Scientists have recently made significant cave discoveries in the Pang Mapha district of Mae Hong Son (Northern Thailand). A few of the caves will be opened to tourists but most will be preserved for research.
     The discoveries are the result of nine years of exploration by a team of 50 geologists, archaeologists and other scientists. The work was supported by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF). Experts fear tourism will damage their fragile nature. "Without proper management we could easily lose these treasures," TRF senior officer Dr Suchata Chinajit said.
     The uncovered caves are among 176 surveyed in Pang Mapha and will be entered into a national database ensuring access for research, management and tourism. The caves were discovered in a 1,200-square-km limestone area of Pang Mapha. It is one of two significant sites for caves in the country - the other being in Kanchanaburi, Suchata explained.
     Silpakorn University archaeologist Dr Rasmi Shookongdej said finds from the caves and their surrounding areas were important. After three years the team still has much to study. "The traces we found tell us how people in the area used caves in their age, which is more than 10,000 years ago. We found burial sites, skeletons and stone and iron tools," Rasmi said.
     The 176 caves have been divided into three categories - tourists can visit 15, 112 will be saved for research and 49 have yet to be classified. "To prevent a flood of tourists into the area we are not revealing the location of this discovery just yet. We are in the process of ensuring the proper development of the area with the participation of local communities," TRF's Suchata said.
     TRF director Piyawat Boonloeng said the fund intended to conduct similar studies in all Northern provinces, which should result in better tourism management in the long term.

Source: The Nation (9 December 2006)

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