FOUR pre-Angkorian religious statues found in Kampong Speu province on Friday are among the most intact and artistically impressive objects known to have originated from that period of Khmer history, directors at the National Museum of Cambodia told the Post on Wednesday.
Hab Touch, director of the National Museum, was unreserved in his excitement about the seventh-century statues, ranging in height from 40 to 140 centimetres, which reached the museum in Phnom Penh on Saturday.
“There are two sculptures of the Buddha and two male deities. The sculptures are very outstanding in terms of historical and artistic quality. The standing Buddha is one of the best we have, truly a masterpiece of Khmer art.”
Hab Touch said the artefacts were discovered accidentally by residents of Samrang Teung district as they cleared a small mound from a rice field .
“As soon as the villagers uncovered the pieces, they knew these were antiquities. They contacted the local authorities, who brought [the objects] to their headquarters.… We immediately went to Kampong Speu to arrange for the transport of the pieces,” he said.
“Not many pre-Angkor sculptures have survived to the present. That for me is why the discovery of these sculptures is so important: They can open up a new chapter in understanding Cambodian history.”
One of the areas the sculptures may shed more light upon is the complex interplay of Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions that mark the art and architecture of the pre-Angkor period.
While the standing and seated Buddhas both exhibit classical mudras, or symbolic gestures, which carried into subsequent periods, experts have found the unidentified male deities more difficult to interpret.
“We can tell if a statue is pre-Angkorian in part from the type of sandstone they used, but especially from the style, from the shape of the body and the face,” explained Sam Thida, the National Museum’s deputy director.
“Pre-Angkor deities typically exhibit the cylindrical object atop the head, but beyond that we don’t know which deities these statues represent.... We need to do more research.”