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Conference explores Southeast Asian archaeology

The inaugural Kerdomnel Khmer conference on July 7 is timely, given the increased interest in Cambodian artefacts stirred up by the commotion over a purportedly looted ancient Khmer statue that was seized at Sotheby’s in New York earlier this year.

The not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to supporting the study of Khmer culture and art, has put together a program of 13 internationally renowned speakers who will present their latest research on Southeast Asian archaeology and art history.

Organiser Chen Chanratana believes that it’s important to raise awareness of Khmer archaeology.

“If we don’t know about our archaeology, we don’t know our history,” he says. “There is a link between history and culture, and it's important that this is understood.”

Chen also wants to encourage more young researchers in Cambodia.

He has recently completed his Ph.D at the Sorbonne in Paris, and he believes that it is important for greater numbers of home-grown talent to get involved in researching the Kingdom’s rich history.

“Together We Can Protect” is Kerdomnel Khmer’s motto, and Chen believes education and collaboration are the key to preserving Cambodia’s ancient treasures for future generations, and as an important element in marketing the Kingdom to foreign visitors.

“When they know it, they preserve it and promote it,” he says.

On the issue of the Sotheby’s piece, Chen insists that Kerdonmel Khmer does not do political work and focuses on cultural work.

But he does concede that he hopes the educational activities the organisation undertakes will generate a level of interest and activism that may one day lead to the statue's repatriation, along with many others.

Tess Davis, who is advising the Cambodian government on the Sotheby’s case, will give a talk titled Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: Lessons From the Kingdom of Cambodia. Seng Sophoan, from the University of Hawaii, will give a speech called Buddhism and the Politics of Cambodia From Ancient Time.

Vouen Vuthy, deputy director of the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory in Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, will present on zooarchaeology in Cambodia.

The conference will take place at Zaman University. It is open to the public, and admission is free.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Brown at anna.brown@phnompenhpost.com

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