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Distant past at National Museum

THE latest exhibition at the National Museum of Cambodia provides an interesting opportunity to delve into Cambodia's mysterious pre-Angkorian past. 

"Angkor Ancestors" showcases artefacts excavated from two sites in Siem Reap province, both of which have unveiled new findings that have significantly improved understanding of pre-Angkorian life.

L'Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) has been excavating the two sites near the Western Baray reservoir of Siem Reap since 2003.

The artefacts excavated at both sites represent some of the oldest evidence of civilisation in Cambodia.

"The findings are very important for the National Museum of Cambodia," said Hab Touch, director of the National Museum.

"Very little is known about this period, and this exhibition is an opportunity for people to learn more about prehistoric Cambodia."

Learning about the past

The display of pottery jars, skeletons and tools will help both the public and scholars learn more about this period of Cambodia's history.

Christopher Pottier, a French archaeologist from EFEO, said the overall objective of the dig was to find out more about the diet, habits and evolution of this civilisation, which existed in Cambodia in the seventh and eighth centuries.

"This project was not a treasure-hunting mission, but rather aimed to uncover information about how these people lived and get an idea of their daily life," Pottier said.

Excavating one of the sites proved a difficult task, given the location of the site in the centre of the predominantly submerged baray.

"We only had one month during the driest period of 2004 to excavate the site before the rains covered the area with water," Pottier said.

That year, the group dug up complete human remains from a shallow grave in the middle of the baray.

The skeleton, dating from between 2000 BC and 3000 BC, was found only 10 centimetres under the surface of the baray, which was built during the 11th century by slave labour.

"Angkor Ancestors" opens at 5:30pm this evening at the National Museum and runs until the end of the year.

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