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A research photo of a Neolithic axe head that was uncovered in Kandal’s Muk Kampoul district earlier this year by archaeologists and Cambodian researchers.
A research photo of a Neolithic axe head that was uncovered in Kandal’s Muk Kampoul district earlier this year by archaeologists and Cambodian researchers. Thuy Chanthourn

Phnom Penh's roots discovered

Two newly discovered archaeological sites suggest people were living close to what is now Phnom Penh thousands of years before the capital was founded.

Villagers living along the Mekong, and a monk at a pagoda, both in Kandal province, have discovered artefacts including Neolithic axes and human bone, which indicate human settlement in the area as long as 3,000 years ago, according to a report obtained yesterday.

“The use of polished stone dates back to about 1000 to 1500 BC,” said Dutch archaeologist and professor Hans Boch, one of a team of experts called to the bank of the Mekong after the find in Muk Kampoul district’s Chas village.

“The evidence shows people living there thousands of years ago,” he added.

“We found polished stone, a crafted metal bracelet, limb bones, teeth, a skull and pottery,” said Thuy Chanthourn, deputy chief of the Institute of Culture and Fine Arts at the Royal Academy of Cambodia.

Ten different types of artefacts were found lying randomly on the surface of the ground on a plot measuring about 100 metres long, approximately 30 kilometres from Phnom Penh, Chanthourn added.

People inspect a section of an ancient site in Kandal province last week.
People inspect a section of an ancient site in Kandal province last week. Thuy Chanthourn

Villagers Chab Sreng and his wife, Tak Chhoeun, came across the priceless items after a mudslide.

“This discovery was only made because part of the riverbank collapsed,” said Pheng Sitha, vice rector of the University of Fine Arts.

He added that the Muk Kampoul site, which he estimated to be more than 2,000 years old, could not be excavated immediately.

“The riverbank collapse ruined some data and now an immediate dig is needed,” he said. “But we are unable to do this right away because we need heavy lifting equipment.”

A report produced by the research team said an initial inspection of the site had revealed ancient urns, animal horns, evidence of fish and human remains, which were thought to be those of a teenager.

Similar items, including a polished axe (referred to by locals as a “lightning blade”), were brought to them by monk Chhil Chhorn at Preah Neak pagoda in Ang Snuol district, to the west of Phnom Penh.

Archaeologists have yet to visit that site, but drew initial conclusions based on the finds.

“Both these sites tell us about the very early settlement of the area around Phnom Penh,” the report said. “The evidence shows that people settled in a low-lying area, and on a hill.”

Thuy Chanthourn and his team at the Institute of Culture and Fine Arts, who have uncovered thousands of archaeological sites since 1996, are appealing to citizens to report anything they come across that might be an ancient artefact.

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