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Lost legs found in Siem Riep

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Dr Peter Sharrock stands by the ‘rediscovered‘ legs of an ancient sculpture of the Buddhist deity Hevajra. The original (inset) was of “exceptional importance“ during the reign of King Jayavarman VII.

Missing piece of Hevajra relic discovered near Angkor Thom.

THE missing piece of an ancient sculpture of the Buddhist deity Hevajra, the bust of which is on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been recovered from a historic site in Siem Reap province.

The legs of the sandstone carving, which dates back to the 12th century, were stumbled upon by a British archaeologist this summer. He had been trying to find the spot where French archaeologists first discovered the sculpture’s remains in 1925 near Angkor Thom, the walled city of King Jayavarman VII (1125-1215). Instead, to his amazement, he found the statue’s legs “just lying there on the jungle floor”.

Dr Peter Sharrock, a senior teaching fellow in the art and archaeology of Southeast Asia department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, said the French archaeologists must have removed the bust, but left the legs, unaware of the artefact’s significance.

“This is a unique statue which I estimate to have been of exceptional importance in the time of King Jayavarman VII,” he said.

The site has been secured by the Apsara Authority, the body that manages Angkor Wat. The exact location is being kept secret for fear of looting.

Researchers hope further excavation could reveal other missing fragments. “[The discovery] may produce further parts of the Hevajra, but it may also give us some clues as to why and when it was apparently broken and buried with other important Buddhist icons at this place in the forest,” Sharrock said on Monday.

The legs are now in the care of the Sihanouk Angkor Museum in Siem Reap, but experts hope they will be reunited with the bust in New York.

Hab Touch, director of the National Museum of Cambodia, said: “We want to put the pieces together. Not one piece there and one over here. We [US and Cambodian officials] will sort it out together.”

Only when the statue has been fully restored will people be able to fully grasp its significance, Sharrock said.

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