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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Treasure seekers cut and sell ancient gold coffin

Treasure seekers cut and sell ancient gold coffin



This damaged sandstone coffin is, according to culture officials, the only known example of a burial as opposed to a cremation in ancient Khmer history. The 11th century coffin was identified at an abandoned temple called Prasat Boeng Mea Lea in Siem Reap province. But a potentially more startling discovery - a gold and copper coffin with skeletal remains inside - has this month been reportedly found and lost.

THE Ministry of Culture is trying to recover an ancient coffin, described as potentially

one of Cambodia's most important archeological finds, which has reportedly been cut

into three pieces and sold in a Kampong Thom market.

Minister of Culture Nouth Narang said he sent staff to Kampong Thom after he heard

reports of the gold and copper coffin containing a skeleton - possibly that of a

king - and remnants of clothing and three gold buttons.

It was dug up by three treasure seekers in late March in the Sang-kum Thmei district

of Preah Vihear, and divided among them as booty.

The three pieces were reportedly sold to a local businessman for thousands of dollars.

The director of the National Museum, Khun Samen, is devastated that the coffin has

apparently been damaged and is in private hands.

"The coffin and body should be in the National Museum for the good of the Cambodian

soul," he said.

"The bones of the body are very important."

He said he had neither seen nor heard of any discovery of an ancient coffin before

in Cambodia, where traditionally cremation is favored over burial.

"It would be very interesting for future researchers," Samen said.

He said that there were indications the coffin contained the body of a king. "The

simple people never had the metal coffins, only wooden ones [in which the bodies

were cremated]," he said.

And an archeological expert in Siem Reap, Christophe Pottier, said that the find

was an "archeological scoop", which could have provided important insights

into Angkorean civilization.

"It is very strange, it is the first time I have ever heard of a body being

found in a coffin. It is very important."

He said an archeological dig of burial sites in the Angkor Wat area in the 1960s

found only ashes.

Culture Minister Narang said that he had only heard of one other coffin being found

with a body in it and that was a stone coffin from the 11th century, which was only

identified last month, near Angkor Wat.

News of the find has started something of a gold rush to the temple site. Police

officers, government officials, soldiers and civilians have all raced to the area

in the hope of making a similar discovery.

Narang has asked the Ministry of Defense to send soldiers to the area to protect

any remaining artifacts and to stop the looting.

And there are reports some people have been lucky and found valuable artifacts.

However it is unlikely that many of the treasures will find their way to the National


Samen said that the museum has no money to compete with private collectors, so it

misses out.

He said for important items he had to find a patron to help buy them.



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