Historians and archaeologists are working to determine the origin and significance of a stone tablet appearing to bear the inscription of a Khmer King's royal directive that a farmer found last week in an Oddar Meanchey cassava field.
The farmer, identified only as Ngich, reportedly found the object while digging up rows of cassava in his field near Romchek village, according to the Ministry of Culture's Heritage Department Director General Prak Sonnara.
"This is a very important discovery for our nation,” Sonnara said. “As far as I have known, this is the first tablet to be found in the area."
On Monday, department officials studied the tablet – which is now at the provincial culture office – to determine its origins.
“We do not know yet whether it is a new inscription that has been found or an existing one… which would mean it was stolen,” Sonnara said.
Vong Sotheara, a professor of history at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and a specialist in stone inscriptions, said the tablet bears an ancient form of Khmer seen as early as the 7th century. The part that is legible refers to offering land to the Gods, though the meaning is currently unclear.
“Although the king’s name and the year are illegible, I believe that the inscription is from the reign of King Jayavarman V," who ruled from 968–1001, he said.
Despite the presence of ancient temple ruins in Anlong Veng, Sotheara’s first hypothesis is that the tablet was transported from Banteay Srei, a temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park built by King Jayavarman V, based on similarities to inscriptions found there, as well as descriptions in the text that appear to refer to the area.
“Some thief may have buried the tablet in the place where it was found last week, planning to bring it to sell in Thailand,” Sotheara said.
Until researchers carry out a thorough study, including of the area where the tablet was found and nearby temples, no conclusion can be made, he said.