After reading your article of March 15-28 "One man's passion: saving the past
for the future" I felt I should address the issue of the antiquities trade.
Although Mr Nou's collecting activities sound innocuous enough there are some very
unsettling aspects to the article. I should begin by saying that I applaud his efforts
in collecting cultural relics from the recent past as Cambodian "pop" culture
is under-documented. The disturbing aspect of this article is the attitude taken
regarding the acquisition of archaeological materials by a private collector. Mr
Nou's line of reasoning; "If I had not bought it, the country would have lost
it forever" is all too common in Cambodia. If Mr Nou had not bought the pot
there would be less reason for looters to dig up more pots like it. In buying antiquities,
even out of genuine concern, people encourage and accelerate the trade, driving up
prices and making the activity all the more lucrative.
Mr Nou's artefacts come from sites of different ages that are immense importance
in understanding Cambodia's history and culture. Unfortunately any scientific information
that could be used in the unravelling of the past is lost when sites are looted.
No one really knows where these artefacts came from or the context in which they
were found or how old they really are. By gaining one beautiful pot for display,
Cambodia loses an important and irreplaceable clue to its ancient past.
- Dr Dougald O'Reilly, Lecturer, Faculty of Archaeology, Royal University of Fine