THAM PEE HAU TOE : ถ้ำผีหัวโต
The limestone hills in this area contain many caves, most having beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. One of the most interesting caves is Tham Pee Hua Toe or the big-headed ghost cave. It is around 10 meters above sea level about 800 meters away from the Ban Bor Thor pier. The pier is around 2 kilometers from the Ao Luk District Office
The main entrance at the first chamber
It’s a large cave with many grottoes, situated on a hill in the middle of the water in the range of Limestone Mountains in Phang Nga Bay. It is surrounded by evergreen mangrove forests and bendy brackish-water rivers.
Long ago, a human skull larger than ordinary was found in the cave. It was named “Tham Pee Hua Toe” or “Big-headed Ghost Cave”. Some people used to call it “Skull Cave” or “Tham Hua Kalok”.
Interestingly, there are a lot of prehistoric drawings on the cave walls representing people, animals, and various organs. There are also vast numbers of shells in the sedimentary rock.
In front of the cave, there is a signboard from the Fine Art Department that can give visitors general information of Tham Pee Hau Toe. The message in English is as follows:
The Big-headed Ghost
The Big-headed Ghost Cave of the Skull Cave is located in Mo 2, Ban Bo Tho, Krabi Provinces’s Ao-luk District. The villagers here call it the Skull Cave because in 2497 B.E. skulls were found in the cave.
It is a limestone cave with stalagmites and stalactites. Cave paintings are also found on the roof and the walls of the cave. Compared to other caves in the south of Thailand, this cave is believed to have the largest number of mural paintings. The painted murals in the cave can be divided into three main categories: Those in the shape of human beings and animals; nonhuman being; and those shaped like a hand and foot. A variety of colours was used in painting such as red, black, yellow, and brown.
These cave paintings are of immense archaeological value. They can be regarded as convincing evidence that around 3,000 years ago there was a prehistoric community on the Coast of Andaman Sea, who relied on natural resources in the area of food and shelter.
Geological Feature of Cave
The cave has 2 chambers with high ceilings, airflow and many of stalactites and stalagmites. The entrance is in the first chamber in north-west with 45 degree angle-slope cement stairs.
The two chambers are separated by stalactite, stalagmite and rocks. There is a walk way at the back opening and a narrow path between rocks in the middle of the cave.
There are actually three openings to these two chambers.
Stalactites are rocks on the ceiling of the cave. They are formed by rain water that is slowly drips the cracks of rocks above the caverns. The rain water is acid that brings down tiny pieces of crystal calcium carbonates and other different types and colors of minerals. When the deposits are exposed to the air they become hard. Over decades and centuries, fantastic stalactites have been formed in different shapes and sizes. Depending on imagination and experience, individual stalactites have many names. (Nakjan 2548)
The stalagmite naturally formed like a penis is in Tham Pee Hau Toe.
Stalagmites are rocks that grow up from the ground. They are formed by the dripping water from the cavern ceiling usually from stalactites. Therefore, the stalagmites are made in the same process as the stalactites, but on the cavern floor. They also come in different shapes, sizes and colors. (Nakjan 2548)
When the stalactites on the ceiling and the stalagmites on the ground grow longer and taller over time, their tips meet each other and get connected. They become a column.
Most local people did not realize the importance of cave wall paintings until in 1912 Mr. Etienne Edmont Lunet de Lajonquière, a French archeologist, published an article about Siamese archeology in Phang Nga Bay. After archeologists from the Fine Arts Department came to study and affirmed that these cave wall paintings are prehistoric. Tham Pee Hau Toe immediately became a popular tourist site.
Tham Pee Hua Toe (Big-headed Ghost Cave) or Tham Pee Hua Kalok (Skull Cave) is considered an “Archeological Heritage” Lots of shell fossils are also found in the sediment of rocks on the ground littering the cave floor. It is assumed that they may be part of the garbage of prehistoric cave dwellers. There are paintings in the cave which are believed to belong to the early prehistoric tribe of cave dwellers or wandering sea gypsies. As for the early cave paintings depicting images of real and mythological people and marine creatures in black, red and brown, aged vary at between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, they seem to perform the function of a picture story, possibly to record the tales of ancestors or possibly to play a role in religious ceremonies. It is quite certain that the wall paintings provided communication between groups of people. It is believed that Tham Pee Hau Toe was once either a shelter or a ceremonial site for those ancient cave people. However, from its location, there is no fresh water supply; the cave is assumed a temporary living place of prehistoric human tribes or a site of rite for performing some kinds of ceremony.
Cave Wall Paintings
Rock paintings on the cave walls and ceilings seem to be a history book passing on knowledge, information and stories of our human ancestors.
In Tham Pee Hau Toe, there are 163 colored rock paintings on the walls and ceilings of the 2 chambers. Some drawings are on the ceiling of hollows or small vertical rooms in the cave. Most of the rock paintings were drawn on the smooth surface of the cave walls and can be easily seen in the bright and airy cave.
These rock paintings were drawn in colors; red, black, yellow, brown, yellow-brown, and red-brown. The drawing styles are in a ‘silhouette’, a dark shape of human or animal portrait, and some done in a style of ‘outline’ drawings , that is, drawing the edge of the shape and then decorating the picture details inside with geometric patterns or colored dots.
The cave wall paintings of Tham Pee Hau Toe are different from those found in other caves in Thailand. They are the figures of humans, animals such as birds, fish, squid, crocodiles, porcupines, and shrimp, parts of bodies, hands and feet, and fishing tools including fishnets, dragnets, and boats.
Wall Paintings in Chamber 1
The most prominent drawing picture here is done in red color on the high ceiling of a top hollow near the main entrance in Chamber 1. It can not be agreed that it is a man or an animal. Some say it is a picture of a human wearing a special suit, a long dress with cross-lining pattern, and decorating his head with animal horns like a master of ceremonies during sacred rituals. The human in this picture is in the action of walking.
Some say it seems like a picture of ‘mountain goat’. The drawing is 80 centimeters tall and in a perfect condition. It became the logo of Tham Pee Hau Toe.
Near the main entrance on the high ceiling opposite the logo picture there is another set of 4 drawing pictures in dark red, two silhouette pictures of hands, and a shrimp. The other is an outline drawing of a small rectangle. A strange thing is there are 6 fingers in a picture of hand.
The rock paintings drawn on the cave wall can tell us that human beings have had an artistic skill for a long time, although their purposes of drawing these pictures might not match our assumptions.
On the wall of Chamber 1 in the north-eastern side, there are a series of human portraits in different postures in red and black.
Some pictures are in a standing pose, some are slanted, and some are carrying fish or birds in their left hand. Some human pictures were drawn having hair. These pictures reveal the ancient tribes living their lives by hunting and catching water animals.
Wall Paintings in Chamber 2
A big set of pictures are on the wall in the south-west of Chamber 2. They were drawn in a long line on the wall that can be reached by the artist standing while drawing.
There are around 40 human pictures in different sizes from 15 to 95 centimeters tall. They were done in different drawing styles.
Some pictures were drawn in a real-human portrait, some were done just to show an important part of body, some were only outlines, some were like an X-ray film showing internal details and some included decorations such as costumes and head wearing gears like animal horns.
However, it is easily seen that most of the human drawing figures have a bird perching on their left arms or wrists. Some human pictures were standing still while some are in motion.
The pictures of human, animals and tools were drawn in the same area. There might be relation between them.
The picture of the bird is in the middle of the cave wall in Chamber 2. It is bigger than the human figures and done in many colors. This picture was made in red and yellow, especially on its legs. The two colors were painted separated to show its leg joints.
There are also several pictures of fish. They were made in so many different styles and colors that we can tell types of fish. The drawers of prehistoric rock paintings in Tham Pee Hau Toe might not focus on its beauty or their artistic skill. Instead, they want to show what they had seen.
The rock paintings on the wall in the Second Chamber look like a collection of drawing pictures in a modern art gallery. More importantly, it is like a history book to tell us about the prehistoric human stories.
Tham Pee Hau Toe and its rock paintings are in such location that is difficult to access. It is surrounded by a river and a mangrove forest which act like a natural barrier. They are still in good condition. Nature has protected them for a long time before they were discovered by human. Visitors have to take the responsibility to protect them, not leaving the burden to the nature.
How do we know the rock painting is that old?
Radiocarbon Dating: One of the most frequent uses of radiocarbon dating is to estimate the age of organic remains from archaeological sites.