In Cambodia and beyond, archaeologists and criminologists are fighting the underground trade in cultural treasures.
A small convoy of military trucks rumbled to a stop at the site of the ancient Banteay Chhmar temple in northern Cambodia. The armed men inside—members of a rogue military unit—set up roadblocks around the vine-shrouded shrine, cutting it off from the outside world. Then the soldiers put local villagers to work with jackhammers, stripping Banteay Chhmar of its 800-year-old treasures.
The temple’s finely sculpted enclosure wall portrayed the rise of the wealthy Khmer Empire that once spanned much of mainland Southeast Asia. The wall’s detailed scenes of battles and royal processions were a crucial source of data for archaeologists and historians. But in two weeks of dogged labor, the looters hacked apart a 98-foot-long section of the sculpted wall, chopped it into blocks, and loaded it onto six large trucks. Then they disappeared with the plunder. Read more.
PHNOM PENH (AFP).- Cambodia on Tuesday officially welcomed the return of three ancient statues looted from the kingdom more than 40 years ago, including one retrieved after a long legal battle in the United States.
Authorities say the 10th-century sandstone artworks were stolen in the 1970s as the country was gripped by civil war, from the Koh Ker temple site near the famed Angkor Wat complex.
The statues, part of a nine-strong ensemble, depict warriors “Duryodhana” and “Bhima” locked in combat — as well as a bystander called “Balarama”.
They were recently returned from the US and are considered pieces of extraordinary value to the Cambodian people and part of their cultural heritage. Read more.
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena announced that it will return an ancient statue acquired nearly 40 years ago to Cambodia, after talks with government officials seeking the repatriation of antiquities it believes were looted from ancient sites.
Museum officials said Tuesday that the 10th century sandstone statue known variously as the “Temple Wrestler” or “Bhima” will be returned to Cambodia as “a gift.”
Standing a little more than 5 feet in height, the statue has been on regular display since the museum purchased it in 1976.
The ancient “Bhima” is the twin of another contested statue that is also being returned to Cambodia. Read more.
The spectacular temples of Cambodia’s Angkor civilization have been incorporated into Google’s Street View, a boost to the impoverished country’s tourism industry that also adds urgency to efforts to preserve the sprawling historic site.
The Internet giant said in a statement Thursday that Street View now includes more than 90,000 photographic panoramas of the sprawling temple complex, and links to Google’s online World Wonders Project, allowing viewers to zoom in to study carvings and other artistic and archaeological details. Read more.
Polish archaeologists found more than 80 archaeological sites in the Siem Reap province in north-western Cambodia. This is one of the first such exploratory projects in Cambodia.
"Some of the sites had been known from the studies of French researchers who visited the area during the colonial period. Yet since then, no one has verified their findings" - explained Kasper Hanus, coordinator of the project carried out at the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
The first stage consisted of using satellite images to identify potential traces of activity of ancient communities in the area of the Siem Reap province. Read more.
A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE has uncovered about 400 years of intensive land use around the ancient city of Mahendraparvata, Cambodia.
Mahendraparvata was founded by King Jayavarman II – the ruler of the Khmer Kingdom – in 802 CE.
Discovered in 2013, the city is located on the plateau Phnom Kulen, around 40 km north of the famous Angkor Wat complex.
The history of Mahendraparvata is based on several written inscriptions, the most well-known being an 11th century CE inscription found in eastern Thailand. The inscription, dated to 1052 CE, tells about a private family serving successive Khmer Kings for 250 years, the first mentioned being King Jayavarman II. Read more.
Rising out of the jungle on white pillars, the new Preah Vihear Museum’s largest building stands empty. But Cambodian officials hope that one day it will be the place where nine ancient statues depicting a dramatic battle scene are reunited from around the world.
They came a step closer to that goal last week, when Sotheby’s auction house in New York agreed to return one of the statues to Cambodia, ending a heated legal battle that began when the U.S. government filed a lawsuit last year at Cambodia’s initiative to press for its return.
The decision marks the latest progress in efforts to bring back together the nine figures that once formed a tableau in a tower of the 1,000-year-old Prasat Chen temple. The scene captured a famous duel in Hindu mythology in which the warrior Duryodhana is struck down by his cousin Bhima at the end of a bloody war of succession while seven attendants look on. Read more.
An ancient statue of a Hindu warrior, pulled from auction two years ago because of assertions that it had been looted from a temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia, will be returned to that country under an agreement signed on Thursday by Sotheby’s, its client and federal officials.
The accord ends a long bare-knuckled court battle over the Khmer treasure, a 10th-century statue valued at more than $2 million. The Belgian woman who had consigned it for sale in 2011 will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia, and Sotheby’s has expressed a willingness to pick up the cost of shipping the 500-pound sandstone antiquity to that country within the next 90 days. Read more.