When Prum Ky, 43, reported his missing statue to local police on Wednesday, he had little inkling that the dirty antiquity unearthed from his rice paddy could be an invaluable cultural treasure from the pre-Angkorian period.
Ky had discovered the headless, but otherwise well-intact statue on July 12 in Pursat town’s Kandieng district and lugged the artefact from his field to his house, hoping it would bring him luck and maybe even help him win the lottery.
“Three days later, he dreamed that his house was on fire. He told his neighbour . . . and the village elders told him that he should bring the statue back to the farm because, since the statue was without a head, it cursed his house,” said Soeng Sopheak, chief of the provincial penal police office.
The farmer hauled the statue back where he found it, and hid it underneath a tree. Two days later, it was gone.
Ky hoped a good Samaritan would bring back his sandstone figure, but after three weeks of unfulfilled waiting, he took his sore luck to the police.
“If you look at the style, the clothes and the body, [the statue] appears to belong to the pre-Angkorian period, maybe from the eighth century,” Sok Im Rithy, an archaeologist with APSARA said based on photographs Ky had taken on his phone.
Rithy said it is possible the statue is a well-done fake, but that every year villagers near the ancient temple sites dig up antiquities.
“They’ve found statues before, but almost never so big.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US, looted antiquities drive the world’s third-largest black market, worth an estimated $8 billion a year.
“We are sorry to hear about the statue,” said Lach Phengly, director of the provincial cultural heritage department. “It is the kind of statue which belongs in the National Museum, not a resident’s house.”