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Digger chances upon haul of ancient treasures

Digger chances upon haul of ancient treasures

P rek Takaum - Cambodia's Ministry of Culture is examining thousands of ancient

pottery shards littering fields in this village that are believed to be the

oldest archaeological remains found so close to the capital.

The site

could yield a wealth of evidence about early pre-Angkorean life in the area when

excavation starts later this year or more probably in 1996, ministry

Undersecretary of State Michel Tranet said.

"I am very happy, because for

the first time we have found such an old site near Phnom Penh," Tranet

said.

He estimated the ceramic pieces at the village, five kilometers

from Phnom Penh, dated back to the second or third century AD, when the area was

known as the Funan Empire.

The Funan and Chenla Empires held sway in

parts of modern Cambodia from the first to the sixth centuries before the

greater and more famous Angkor Empire of the eight to 15th centuries, which left

great art and temples such as Angkor Wat.

Businessman Bou Kouy Seng said

he had found evidence of a major pottery kiln while digging pools for fish

breeding and had alerted Tranet of the find a month ago.

Much of the area

is currently under water but wider access should be available once the dry

season begins at the end of October, when archaeologists will get a better idea

of what they are dealing with.

Tranet, picking up ancient bits of pottery

from the dredged earth as though they were leaves, said the site seemed to be

"very, very big" and estimated they would find "many, many layers with ceramics"

and possibly iron pieces and statues.

"Most of (the ceramics) are broken,

but we are sure one day we will find ones that are not broken," said the

archaeologist.

"We have to make a proper excavation, perhaps in the next

few months, but we must take some samples for analysis and comparative study,"

he stressed, adding that art undergraduates could help with excavation, although

foreign funding would be needed.

Seng and Tranet seemed unconcerned about

security, although the culture minister said "we have first to classify the

village as a historical site" and sort out the boundaries with local

officials.

Theft of Cambodia's cultural heritage has become a big

business and Tranet stressed "we have to fight against this illicit trade, it's

very difficult and every day we lose Khmer artifacts."

Tranet said he

hoped the ceramics found at Prek Takaum could be housed in a museum to be built

on the site, while property owner Seng said he would like to create a cultural

and handicrafts center in the peaceful wetland area.

The kiln find is the

latest important discovery of pre-Angkorean artifacts in southeast Cambodia.

Tranet's ministry office is crowded with a treasure trove of pots, linga,

jewelry, trinkets and ceremonial jars.

The undersecretary said the latest

find could paint a clearer picture of the way of life of people living in the

Phnom Penh area at the time, including their agriculture and fishing practices,

religion and even clothing. - Reuters

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