Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - More statues to be repatriated

More statues to be repatriated

More statues to be repatriated

Several of Cambodia’s sandstone warriors are making their way home to a remote jungle temple north of Angkor Wat.

Yesterday, a Cambodian delegation gathered in New York to receive the Duryodhana, a 10th-century sculpture and the subject of a prolonged legal battle between Sotheby’s and Cambodia that ended in December with a settlement arranging the artefact’s homecoming. A day earlier, Christie’s and the Norton Simon Museum in California both announced that they would voluntarily repatriate statues from the same temple at the Koh Ker archaeological site.

Pictured is a Bhima Statue belived to be a 10th-century, Angkor-era sandstone statue looted from the Koh Ker Temple Complex
Pictured is a Bhima Statue, belived to be a 10th-century, Angkor-era sandstone statue looted from the Koh Ker Temple Complex. PHOTO STUPPLID

The recent slew of return agreements comes after the Metropolitan Museum of Art volunteered the first two statues, known as the Kneeling Attendants, one year ago. It was the first time looted antiquities were willingly returned from a museum collection.

“It’s an extremely historic moment, and we hope these returns to Cambodia set an example for cultural reclamation around the world,” said Anne LeMaistre, country representative for UNESCO. “Cambodia has been deprived of its cultural heritage from Koh Ker. In a way, it’s like reconstituting their identity like a jigsaw puzzle – piece by piece, statue by statue.”

All of the soon-to-be-returned treasures belong to a cast of nine from the Prasat Chen Temple, which for 10 centuries depicted a fight between two mythological Hindu heroes. But the nine figures were all decapitated, hewn from their bases and dragged out from the temple in phases during systemic looting in the 1970s against the backdrop of civil war. Afterwards, they were sold in antiquities markets to private collectors.

“It is important to remember the only reason Prasat Chen – and not the countless pillaged temples like it – makes headlines is because we know exactly when it was looted, where its statues went, and where they are now. We can guess for others . . . What separates [Prasat Chen] is only a great deal of detective work and luck,” said Tess Davis, an antiquities lawyer and researcher at the University
of Glasgow.

But that luck certainly paid off for Cambodia. After four decades of empty ruins, it won’t be long now until the temple’s battle can be restaged, with the Duryodhana, one of the Hindu warriors at the centre of the battle now in the custody of Cambodian officials, and the Norton Simon’s Bhima, the opposing warrior, soon to follow, along with Christie’s match to the Met attendants. Cambodia plans to reunite the group, along with the Kingdom’s sole relic from the Prasat Chen temple, and will initially host the six in the capital’s National Museum before eventually reattaching them to their original pedestals in Siem Reap.

“Koh Ker will become famous like Angkor Wat . . . the royal government could do that,” said Chen Chanratana, an archaeologist and professor at Zaman University in Phnom Penh.

Christie’s and Norton Simon did not return requests for comment yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • South Korea’s first lady brings hope to ill boy

    South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee – wife of current president of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol – met with a 14-year-boy with congenital heart disease during her trip to the Kingdom for the ASEAN Summit. After their meeting it was announced that the

  • Hun Sen gets Covid, shuns G20, APEC summits

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said he has tested positive for Covid-19 in Indonesia, where he is slated to attend the G20 summit in his capacity of the ASEAN chair. In a social media post addressing the Cambodian public, he said: “Before leaving Cambodia, I always

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol