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

  • Prince injured, wife dies after accident

    THE wife of former First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Ouk Phalla, 39, died while the prince was “severely” injured following a road accident in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nub district on Sunday morning, officials said. Rananriddh, who is also the president of the Funcinpec

  • Bun Heang mocks US, threatens its citizens in scathing open letter

    After being hit with sanctions from the US Department of Treasury, Cambodian General Hing Bun Heang said he would retaliate against any US national who does not respect his country’s sovereignty, has ambitions to invade Cambodia or incites “traitors” in the Kingdom to do

  • Police warn boycott FB group involved in the “Clean Fingers Campaign”

    Police said on Tuesday that they will pick up members of a Facebook group involved in the “Clean Fingers Campaign” that promotes a boycott of next month’s national elections. However, police merely planned to “educate” the group for now, but warned that if the

  • Ranariddh 'seriously injured', his wife dies in accident in Preah Sihanouk

    THE wife of former first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh has died. Ouk Phalla succumbed to injuries sustained in a traffic accident on National Road 4 in Preah Sihanouk’s Prey Nub district this morning. She and the prince were immediately rushed to the Preah Sihanouk