A Chinese-owned company in Preah Vihear’s Tbeng Meanchey district stumbled across an 8th-century sandstone carving of the Buddha while excavating land there on Wednesday, the provincial culture department said yesterday.
Oug Vireak, a deputy with the culture department, said the firm Lan Feng had been bulldozing a two-metre-deep hole in the vicinity of the Yeak Phlok temple when they uncovered the pre-Angkorian relic, which measures 60 centimetres by 60 centimetres at the base and weighs some 50 kilograms.
“We came to investigate in the area, and we were able to confirm that it is a kind of sandstone [statue] which was made in the 8th century at the Yeak Phlok temple area,” Vireak said. “Now we are keeping it at the company before transferring it to the culture department.”
Moa Ri, director of the culture department’s heritage office, said that officials had requested that Lan Feng temporarily stop bulldozing in the area until experts are able to examine it further, noting that more antiquities could be buried there.
“The villagers gathered in this area and want to dig in it, but we could not allow them to,” he said. “We are afraid of them affecting the antiquities in the area. They are state property. No one can take them to another place or sell it.”
Ri also said that the company must notify culture authorities when they discover such archaeological artefacts.
Villagers have accused Lan Feng of clearing land without regard to the boundaries of their 9,000-hectare concession, and of failing to consider the concession’s impact on locals.
Yesterday, ethnic villager Phan Sokhet, 25, said that some 100 villagers had gathered to watch over the area overnight to ensure that the company did not abscond with any other still-buried relics.
“We are afraid the company would not report it to the authorities if they found some antiques, or would keep it secret,” he said. “That’s why we came to sleep here and keep watch. One worker from the company told us [about the statue]; that’s how we knew about it.”
Lor Chan, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that villagers had “suggested the authorities take [the statue] right away to keep it at the Culture Department, not at the company office”.
However, Hau An Tak, an interpreter for Fan Leng, maintained that the company had no intention to steal any artefacts, and said the firm would comply with the Culture Department’s request to hold off on further excavations until experts had examined the site.
Tbeng Meanchey district governor Paing Yeat, meanwhile, said that authorities had stationed police to prevent anyone from disturbing the area.