An archeological team has found a metre-long tipless stone linga (penis) of the Hindu deity Shiva in the foundations of a temple in Kratie province’s historical Samphu Borak area, a former capital of the pre-Angkor Empire Chenla period.
Thuy Chanthourn, the deputy director of the Institute of Arts and Culture and the team leader, told The Post on Sunday that the find was important as the tip of the sculpture was likely to have been originally covered in a precious metal, which had probably been removed by robbers.
This made it different from other such artefacts in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, the Angkor Conservation Centre and other museums across Cambodia.
“Friends of mine who are experts of the Angkor era said the linga sculpture was unusual as it was found without its tip, which was likely to have been originally covered in a precious metal."
“We see many examples of ancient linga sculptures covered with gold, silver or bronze. So this sculpture may well have also been covered in a precious metal before it was dug up and the tip removed by robbers."
“Everywhere, 100 per cent of all the temple remnants I have unearthed, [I have found that] the foundations have been destroyed by people who dug them up while searching for valuable artefacts,” he said.
Chanthourn, who is also deputy president of the Cambodian Historians Association at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said on Friday that he also led a group of the academy’s trainee archaeologists on a research tour of the Samphu Borak site on May 10.
On the dig, they found previously undiscovered artefacts including a carved stone hollow, a trough for holy water and parts of the supports for a gate, as well as the Shiva linga sculpture, in the remnants of two temples, he said.
In early March he found an unusual sculpture with three linga of the same size and shape sticking out from a base like an inverted tripod, he added.
Chanthourn said the linga sculptures were of huge value as relics of Cambodian history and called on the relevant authorities, especially the provincial department of culture, to have them placed in a museum.
“I don’t have the money to transport them to a museum myself. I would like to appeal to the authorities, especially the Kratie provincial Department of Culture, [after] seeing my report and knowing the information contained therein, to take these artefacts to a museum to avoid them being stolen as they are incredibly valuable,” he said.
Hok Phaliny, deputy director of the provincial Department of Culture, said on Monday that after returning to work on Tuesday, she would inform her director of the discoveries so experts could visit the location and take the artefacts to a safer place.
“Being aware of [the find], the department director will assign experts to examine [it],” she said.
Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts spokesman Thai Norak Satya could not be reached for comment.
Chanthourn’s team have unearthed the remnants of nearly 100 previously undiscovered temples dating from the 6th and 7th centuries in Kratie province’s historical Samphu Borak area.
The ancient foundations were found as part of research into the Chenla civilisation that began in 2015, which also took them to locations in Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham provinces, as well as to Vietnam and Laos.
He said he had used his own funds to cover transport, accommodation and food for past research trips, and appealed for the government to create a fund to assist in future archaeological research.