Three Angkorian-era statue heads were found under more than half a metre of soil last week at Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province.
The massive heads were unearthed between Friday and Sunday during a government-sponsored renovation of the temple, said preservation official Mao Sy.
“Three [heads] were found. Two are intact, but one was broken in the head and mouth,” Sy said, adding that the statues came from the end of the 12th-century reign of Jayavarman VII.
Sy estimated the statues’ heads fell off their bodies several decades ago and were buried by layers of earth brought in by floods.
“If they had not been buried deep into the ground, they would have been cut off, looted and sold. It is very fortunate these statues did not end up getting sold abroad,” he said.
The heads, made of sandstone, will be put in storage and reassembled once further parts are found.
The heads were part of a causeway depicting the stirring of the Ocean of Milk, an ancient Hindu fable under which gods and demons worked together to churn the seas by wrapping a serpent around a mountain and rotating it.
A similar array of statues pulling a serpent exists in the Bayon temple in Siem Reap province, but Bantaey Chhmar is far less visited.
Kit Sokun, a Banteay Chhmar tourism official, said the temple receives only a bit more than 700 domestic and international visitors per year.
He said he hoped that low number would increase as electricity infrastructure improves and more than 30 kilometres of roads are repaired in the district.
“We hope to have more tourists come when the reparation of the temple is completed [as well].”
At the end of October, the same excavation team discovered a human skeleton at the temple’s south entrance.
Speculated to have been that of a Khmer Issarak who died fighting the French over 60 years ago, its origins remain a mystery.