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Seng Sonetra and two students
Seng Sonetra and two students. Photo Supplied

Germany helps preserve heritage

As of late September, there have been 10 training courses for officials from museums in ASEAN countries to teach them more about conservation, namely how to repair and maintain ancient artefacts. The professional training offered by the German-Cambodia Conservation School (GCCS) is supported by funding and technical assistance from the Cultural Conservation Program of the German Foreign Office.

Seng Sonetra, a teacher with GCCS, said the school’s 10th course had just been completed and that she was preparing for the 11th course early this month.

“Trainees selected for each course are required to be staff or senior officials from any museum in the 10 ASEAN countries, and they must have archaeological skills,” she said. “In the 10 courses, we have had 20 trainers, mostly from ASEAN museums – two from Laos, five from Vietnam, four from Indonesia and one from the Philippines, and eight are officials and Cambodian students.”

Sonetra explained that each course lasts six weeks. The course is divided into three phases – the first four weeks are centred around theory and are conducted in a classroom, which is the repairing room. “We focus on the technical methodology of conserving and repairing ancient artefacts and how to use scientific tools.

“In the fifth week, we bring all trainees to the conservation hall in the National Museum of Phnom Penh.” There they can study antiques in the exhibition hall, the product of research by Cambodian and German cooperation.

“For the sixth and final week, we bring all trainees to the Angkor area so they can study and learn about stone conservation.”

In Angkor, students are trained in how to conserve ancient stone objects, led by Dr Hans Leisen, the director of the German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) in Siem Reap.

Sonetra explained: “All metal objects in the classroom at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts are real – they are evidence that our ancestors created various metal objects for daily life.”

Archeologists doing fieldwork
Archeologists doing fieldwork. Photo Supplied

Holding one object that looks like an ancient weapon, Sonetra said: “This is a spear made of metal recently found by our archaeologists from the excavated area of Pro Hear. It is a part of our study in this course.”

She added that most of the metal objects used in the course have been recently excavated from pre-historical sites in Cambodia, such in Prey Veng province.

Trainees selected to participate in the course receive sponsorship for their round trip of $300 and also $420 for accommodation, food and other expenses. It is sponsored by the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office.

Sonetra received a scholarship to study the conservation of ancient heritage in Germany for three months in 2007, sponsored by the RAVE Foundation of Germany.

Vin Lai Chuor, coordinator of the Germany-Cambodia Conservation Project, said that the joint research project has enjoyed more than 20 years of success. The different projects include a human resources training program, archaeological excavations, exhibitions, printing and archaeological repair and conservation.

Through excavations carried out between 2008 and 2011 at Prahear’s 2,000-year-old burial site in Prey Veng province, “we found that the site was one of the most important places we have ever found in Southeast Asia”, according to Lai Chuor.

The research group of Memot Archaeology Centre of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, together with the German Archaeology Institute, has done a lot of work and is continuing its research and archaeological conservation of the site, especially concerning the gold jewellery and other metal artefacts discovered there.

The Cambodian-German Conservation Project was established in 2013 in cooperation with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the German Embassy in Cambodia and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

With a shortage of skills in archaeological conservation and repair work on ancient artifacts, the main objective of the project is to create a conservation group in Cambodia with participation from the neighbouring countries.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all relevant participating parties, especially the Embassy of Germany in Phnom Penh and the Conservation Program of the German Ministry, which is sponsoring this project until 2016,” Lai Chuor said.

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