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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Large women once ruled Banteay Meanchey

Large women once ruled Banteay Meanchey

Large women once ruled Banteay Meanchey




Skeletal remains and grave goods found are unearthed at Phum Snay, about 70km west of Siem Reap. the Phum Snay site was discovered accidentally in late 1999.

A Japanese archaeologist claims to have

uncovered evidence of an advanced female-led civilization in northwest Cambodia that

precedes Angkor Wat and dates back to the first century AD.


Miyatsuka Yoshito said findings from a

2007 dig at Phun Snay suggest that a ‘Queendom’ – a large urban civilization

with women at its center – once flourished in Cambodia.

“We found women buried with iron armor –

very big female skeletons,” Yoshito told the Post. “I found one who was 1.70 meters – a very tall lady. Society

then had very different male-female relations.”

He said his theory is supported by

evidence of coeval female-led civilizations in the region, such as that of

Empress Himiko of Yamataikoku

in Japan,

which dates back to the third century.

Yoshito’s dig is part of a Japanese government

funded five-year project to excavate at Phum Snay, a burial site in Banteay

Meanchey province, about 70 kilometers west of Siem Reap town.

The Phum Snay site was first discovered

accidentally in late 1999 and was heavily looted. The looting was of such

ferocity that it prompted archaeologist Dougald O’Reilly, who has led three

Phum Snay excavations, to found Heritage Watch, now a thriving heritage

conservation organization.

“I think that the artifacts and content

that the Japanese team uncovered are fairly similar to what we found during our

excavations,” O’Reilly said. “The findings are basically identical – artifacts

in burial contexts – but the interpretations are considerably different.”

While Yoshito and his team argue that the

culture in Phum Snay in the first century AD was dominated by militarized

females, O’Reilly’s team found the opposite.

"We found males buried with military

paraphernalia – swords, caches of arrowheads, axes," O'Reilly said.

"This suggests that there was a militarized component to the society but

we didn't find female burials that contained weaponry."

Yoshito’s dig uncovered 37 burial sites

and 35 specimens of ancient human skeletal

remains dating back to circa first century AD. A few specimens were

sufficiently preserved to enable measurement and identification of the facial



were taken of four of the female skeletons and Yoshito found differences in

head form and in the visceral cranium. This, combined with DNA evidence, has

led him to argue that the inhabitants of Phum Snay may have immigrated to Cambodia from mainland China.

“They have Han

people DNA. They did not cultivate rice or fish, they practiced wheat

cultivation, kept sheep and goats and horses, like Mongolians. They came from

mainland China

and moved to the coastal areas,” he said.

O’Reilly said that while he supported

their findings of weapons, it would take more research to clarify the complex

migration patterns in the region during that period.

“In north east Thailand

at the same time there is not much evidence of militarization which makes Phum

Snay very interesting in terms of what it can tell us about sociopolitical

organization in Cambodia

at the time,” he said.

Yoshito said examination

of the skeletons he unearthed found evidence of customary tooth extraction

practices in two cases.

This type of

tooth extraction is fairly common in the Chinese continent. At Phum Snay, the

two sets of remains exhibiting this feature found by Yoshito were female.


confirmed that the osteological expert on his project who had analyzed the

human remains at Phum Snay suggested that pre-mortem tooth extraction – found

on approximately 70 percent of the skulls examined (both male and female) – was

not uncommon in the region during that period.

During his next excavation, Yoshito will

be looking the residential area that he says would “typically be located near

the burial site we found this time.”

The dig was motivated by Yoshito’s urge

to find proof of what is mentioned in ancient Chinese written records – that

the Funan Kingdom began in 1 AD. Prevailing

archaeological thought holds that the Funan culture originated in Angkor Borai,

in modern day Cambodian, and Oc

Eo in modern day Vietnam,

somewhere between the fourth and sixth century AD.


the first stages of the project, Yoshito’s team took numerous satellite

photographs and mapped out the Phum Snay area. In January and February 2007 the

team – including 18 Cambodian archaeologists and 50 local workers – began

excavation. They dug nearly 2.5 meters down which helped ensure the findings

they unearthed were intact – looters typically give up at 1.5 meters.

As a result of the exquisite quality of

some of the findings – such as very fine decorated pottery coated with layers

of black and red lacquer – Yoshito now believes that “Funan culture started


But O’Reilly suggested that such an

assertion might be a little premature. “There is no doubt that Phum Snay

represents the remains of a complex chiefdom that dates to the first century

but to say it is the capital of Funan is premature. Most information on Funan’s

location comes from Chinese annals and indicates it was in southern Cambodia not western Cambodia, but details on the

location of Funan are fairly sketchy.”


research in Southern Cambodia and Vietnam supports this contention.


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