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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Temple skeleton a mystery

Human remains found at Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province on Friday morning
Human remains found at Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province on Friday morning. Wildly different theories about the origins of the skeleton are being put forth. NATIONAL POLICE

Temple skeleton a mystery

Officials are scratching their heads over the origins of a skeleton found at a remote temple in Banteay Meanchey province, with different theories about its provenance competing with each other.

The human remains were found under a collapsed pile of rock on Friday morning by a repair team working at the south entrance of Banteay Chhmar temple, which dates to the 12th and 13th century.

Ven Som Oun, Banteay Chhmar commune chief, said the skeleton’s skull was cracked and the frame positioned face down.

Som Oun noted the lack of clothing, as did Bun Rat, a local farmer who said he thought it once belonged to an “ancient people,” because “the skull is big and the shins are big and long [and] especially [because] there are no clothes at all”.

Mao Sokny, an official with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that Banteay Chhmar has long been a hideout for insurgents. Nationalists fighting the French sheltered there, as did Khmer Rouge soldiers up until the mid 1990s. The temple has also been looted extensively.

“According to my conclusion, the skeleton does not belong to the ancient people, but it is the raider’s, since the skull is cracked. This crack might be caused by the rock falling on him while he was digging at the entrance of this temple,” Sokny said.

Deab Chhun, the governor of Thma Puok district, had his own ideas. He used to help locate bodies of Vietnamese soldiers who fought the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s and 1980s. When he found them, they still had on their uniforms.

“I am not an expert, but I can conclude that it is not the ancient people skeleton, and it is also not the skeleton of the people who died in the Khmer Rouge war. But it might belong to the Khmer Issarak who died in the war against the French,” he said.

He said that the skeleton would be kept at Banteay Chhmar Pagoda to wait for more expert analysis.

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