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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bells, Buddhas uncovered

Bells, Buddhas uncovered

Two rare, ornately patterned bells dating back more than 2,000 years will be presented

to the National Museum in Phnom Penh after being unearthed in a demining operation.

The bells are cleaned at the National Museum.

The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) unearthed the bells, which are in excellent condition,

during a routine demining operation. They are believed to date from around 200 BC,

and will be officially presented to the National Museum in a handover ceremony.

However the future is not so clear for 27 solid gold Buddha statues discovered by

villagers beneath a ruined temple in Por Pech, Kampong Thom province, in late August.

Discussions are under way to determine whether the statues should be housed in a

museum or stay in the pagoda where they were discovered during restoration work.

A team of experts will view the statues in the coming week to assess their exact

history. Leam Sarun, deputy director of the department for cult and religions in

Kampong Thom, said they probably date back to the 14th century. Three silver statues

and one copper statue were also uncovered.

District governor Sok Chheng said the statues should be sent to a museum as soon

as possible.

"We need to share Cambodia's heritage with the people by placing the statues

in a museum so everyone can see them," he said, adding that he was worried the

artifacts would be stolen if they remained in the village.

But the villagers who found the statues want them to stay at the pagoda so they can

be worshipped. Leam Sarun said villagers wanted to collect money from worshipers

to raise funds for the temple restoration.

"Compensation has been offered to the people who found the statues," he

said, "but there are still a minority of villagers who want to keep the statues

there."

Yet another faction of villagers wanted personally to present the statues to Prime

Minister Hun Sen. Oum Sok, director of the provincial department for culture and

fine arts, said the community of laymen at the pagoda expect to receive money from

the Prime Minister to help with restoration.

Ultimately the fate of the statues lies in the hands of experts from the Ministry

of Cult and Religions, and if the statues are deemed important, the government will

order their transfer to the museum, and villagers will have to abide by this.

A decision is on hold awaiting the return from Laos of the government's cultural

advisor. Until that happens the statues remain under guard in the Por Pech Pagoda

where they were found.

While the destiny of the golden Buddha statues remains hazy, the two ancient bells

found in Pursat province will take up residence in their new home soon. Khun Samen,

director of the National Museum, said they were an important find.

"They are very rare artifacts," he said. "They are a witness to

ancient culture in Cambodia, and to the ancient bronze-casting techniques."

The bells, which may have been used for cremations or religious ceremonies, are

the oldest find for the National Museum in many years. They were found by MAG deminers

Chey Veth, Nov Nath and Hong Ra as they were clearing roads in the Chrey Krem village

in Pursat on August 14.

"They found [the bells] while searching for mines," said Pheap Mono, MAG's

regional manager for Battambang and Pursat provinces. "They were using a mine

detector and had a very high reading. They were not clear whether it was a mine or

something else, so they removed the earth very gently. When they saw the patterns

on the bells they thought they must be very old and felt very happy."

The bells were taken back to the deminers' accommodation overnight. The village chief

and department of arts and culture were advised, and the bells were taken to Phnom

Penh where they are being restored. Museum director Khun Samen said he was grateful

for MAG's efforts.

"We are very happy [because] we have another treasure for the museum, the public

and the world," he said. "MAG has done a good deed for the whole world."

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