Recently discovered statues at one of the gates of Angkor Thom temple in Siem Reap province have attracted public attention after their pictures went viral on social media.

An archaeological team from the Apsara National Authority (ANA) found the buried statues broken in pieces – including the heads and pieces of their bodies – during an excavation of the Ta Kav gate at Angkor Thom.

ANA spokesman Long Kosal said the team started repairs on the Ta Kav or western gate of Angkor Thom in early 2021 and found the statues, which are of devas and asuras, in July and September.

He noted that in front of the five gates of the temple stand the sculptures of the devas and asuras – a class of demons in Hindu and Buddhist mythology – turning and churning up the water in a tug of war in a process called the Churning of the Ocean of Milk to extract from the waters the elixir of immortality.

The statues, he added, reflect the devout religious beliefs of people living at the time and the importance of community water systems and irrigation.

“We repaired a few metres of the western gate and now we are doing a full archaeological excavation to continue the work,” he said.

Photographer Nick Sells visited Siem Reap province and posted a few photos of the broken statues to social media. He said that at the western gate of Angkor Thom there was a bridge buried in mud and the statues were found during its excavation.

“I love visiting the West Gate at sunset. This time when I visited I was very happy to stumble upon the excavation work taking place,” said Sells. “It’s amazing to see a face and many pieces of the bridge being revealed from the mud of the moat after presumably hundreds of years. I’m looking forward to seeing the full renovation of the West Gate.”

Kosal said that during the excavation, the team found the heads from statues and some broken bodies of the statues, so they were forced to divert the water in the moat there and do a full excavation. Despite the statues being discovered few days ago, they were kept in their original places until the team finished the repair work.

The statues of devas and asuras found beneath the bamboo and trees had been broken hundreds of years ago, he said.

“We have not yet removed the pieces of the statues that were discovered, such as the heads and other pieces, because when we discover something we cannot remove it immediately. We have to make a record of their exact location as they were found and do drawings and take samples using archaeological techniques,” he said.

He added that the technical work will be complete when they re-assemble the pieces and then put them back together and then they will continue to excavate the area to the best of their ability.