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
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
“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
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.