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Donor slams 'mudslinging' at museum

Questions about the authenticity of a set of Jayavarman VII-era

gold royal regalia recently donated to Cambodia’s
NationalMuseum have enraged experts and

collectors who say this kind of “mudslinging” will deter private collectors

from returning Cambodian artifacts to the Kingdom.

“It is extremely off-putting,” said Douglas Latchford, the

Bangkok-based collector who donated the gold to the NationalMuseum.

“I would like to donate more pieces back and I know others who want to, but

when you hear comments like this you start thinking ‘Why bother?’”

Both government and museum officials have publicly raised

questions about the provenance – the history of an artifact which proves it is

genuine not fake – of the recent donation.

When contacted, the museum official who had made the

allegations declined to comment on the issue saying: “I don’t want to talk

about it. It is boring.”

In 2004, Latchford donated a silver bowl to the museum. The

provenance was publicly questioned by the same museum official in a newspaper

article, but the official later retracted his claims.

“Making allegations like this is detrimental to the country

and to the museum,” said Latchford. “Why would one give something back to risk

having it criticized by someone who doesn’t understand? It is a great shame for

the museum.”

The museum’s director, Hab Touch, said provenance is a

tricky issue in the field of Cambodian antiquities. The country’s many years of

civil strife made recordkeeping difficult and many objects – including those in

the museum’s possession – lack the documents they need to prove their authenticity.

The gold donated by Latchford lacks a complete provenance.

It was bought by him some 25 years ago from a private collector in Europe.

Emmy Bunker, an expert in Asian gold who co-authored a

book on the subject with Latchford, said she was sure the items donated by

Latchford were genuine.

“The royal regalia obviously belonged to someone of great

rank and can in no way be fake, as there is nothing comparable known for the

fakers to base the pieces on,” she said.

Bunker argued that without private collectors Cambodia would

have lost much of its gold heritage as it would have been melted down.

“The museum itself

had a few lovely pieces that were stolen and disappeared forever during years of

turmoil in the 70s and 80s,” she said.

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