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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Search for Khmer gold

Search for Khmer gold

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An American academic is trying to piece together one of the more glamorous mysteries

of Angkorian culture - the functional and spiritual role of gold.

Untold numbers of Angkorian gold objects are in private hands

Emma C. Bunker, a visiting expert on Asian art from the Denver Art Museum says that

although surviving sculptures and bas reliefs suggest a stunning range of gold jewelry

during the Angkorian era, not a single piece of this jewelry exists in the Cambodia's

National Museum.

"Most of the gold artefacts that existed were taken away by the antiquarians

during the French era... and the museum collection disappeared during the Khmer Rouge

years," Bunker said.

According to Bunker, little gold has been found in archaeological excavations in

the Kingdom because, unlike China, Royal burials were not a characteristic of Angkorian

society. Instead, researchers have had to focus on Angkorian gold ornaments uncovered

in Pimai, Thailand.

"[Researchers] have been writing about [Cambodian] culture and history without

getting the opportunity to examine the archaeological evidence on the subject...

and that can be dangerous," Bunker said of the limitation that the lack of Cambodian-sourced

gold ornaments has created.

As part of her investigations of private collections in Europe and North America,

Bunker hopes to convince their owners to return Angkorian gold specimens to Cambodia

for the benefit of the Cambodian people.

Hab Touch, Deputy Director of the National Museum, said an organization had been

formed to campaign for the return of gold artefacts to Cambodia.

"...both Cambodians and foreigners [should] see and appreciate [this] little

known aspect of rich Khmer culture."

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