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Archaeology gets education boost, but pay remains poor

Students from the Royal University of Fine Arts practise survey and mapping techniques at Angkor Wat
Students from the Royal University of Fine Arts practise survey and mapping techniques at Angkor Wat. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Archaeology gets education boost, but pay remains poor

A new training course is set to enhance the skills of Cambodia’s next generation of archaeologists. However, experts are saying it is poor pay rather than a lack of educational opportunities that hampers efforts to restore and preserve the Kingdom’s historical treasures.

The three-month master's degree course, which is intended to produce more professionals specialising in archaeology, is set to begin this month and will be taught in both Khmer and French.

Trainees will learn advanced skills in managing, repairing and restoring archaeological sites.

The course, which is backed by UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, will also see students add to Cambodia’s catalogue of archaeological significant sites.

“Cambodia is an archaeologically rich country, but with a weak database established by the ministry,” said UNESCO spokeswoman Anne Lemaistre. She added that better education about archaeology would be a boost to Cambodia.

“We will need quality tour guides for the archaeological sites in the country, and they should be trained and have a diploma,” she said.

Culture and Fine Arts Minister Phoeung Sakona has said the country is suffering a serious shortage of human resources in the archaeological field and urged more Cambodians to learn how to preserve and restore resources.

But Kaseka Phon, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s Faculty of Archaeology, said a bigger problem was a lack of state funding. “The government must give more funds on heritage preservation and restoration,” he said.

Phon added that low salaries drove graduates away from the profession into other fields.

“The wage of Khmer lecturers at the Faculty of Archaeology is $5 per hour. Whatever the government designs will not be successful if salaries remain this low,” he said.

Cambodia has long relied on foreign countries and donors to support international excavation projects and shows little sign of taking on more funding responsibility.

The US Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation recently announced a provision of $47,000 to the Archaeology and Development Foundation to support a one-year research project for documentation and preservation of newly discovered Angkorian sites on Kulen Mountain, which UNESCO has recommended be classified as a World Heritage Site in 2012.

Meanwhile, UNESCO is behind a permanent exhibition titled Post-Angkorian Buddha in the National Museum of Cambodia. It has also begun a series of renovation projects in the museum since 1993 to better protect collected artefacts.

Alison Carter, who has worked as an archaeologist training students in Cambodia for nine years, agreed there could be more support for training and increased public education about Cambodia’s cultural heritage between the prehistoric and the post-Angkorian period.

Setting up buildings and sites so they are friendlier to tourists could also create better awareness of archaeology, heritage protection and appreciation for Cambodia’s history, she said.

Carter added that the looting of sites and Cambodia’s burgeoning construction industry threatened the archaeological field survey across the country.

“Many times, we might not know an archaeological site exists or the extent of a site until it has begun being destroyed, by looters or perhaps by construction projects,” she said.

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