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
"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."