Archaeologists have warned that a major pre-Angkorian cemetery in Banteay Meanchey
province has been lost forever, and others are in extreme danger from looters.
The site at Phum Snay, said Dr Dougald O'Reilly of the archaeological faculty at
the Royal University of Phnom Penh, had been destroyed.
The loss of the other sites in the country's northwest, he said, would mean the destruction
of valuable information that could shed light on how Khmer society developed into
the complex Angkorian Empire.
He called on the government to make "every effort" to preserve these valuable
"Phum Snay is already finished for archaeology," said O'Reilly. "It
is so badly looted [which] is a loss for science. To find anything substantial about
that site is impossible. We have lost all that information [and] will never be able
to understand this most important ancient civilization."
O'Reilly said that when he went to Phum Snay in January to excavate the site, he
witnessed people trading in looted artifacts.
"They sold to everyone - Cambodians and Thai," he said. "One kilogram
of iron artifacts costs one baht or one hundred riel. This is shocking. It's very
He later saw some artifacts from Phum Snay on sale in Phnom Penh's Russian Market.
Thuy Chanthourn, a lecturer at the faculty, said that although villagers living near
the site had ceased their looting, others had begun to dig at another cemetery. The
local authorities, he said, were powerless to stop them as the looters had military
O'Reilly's visit in January was his second to Phum Snay, which was found in May 2000.
The excavation work, which uncovered 14 graves, revealed items such as swords, ceramic
pots, spindle whorls, beads, semi-precious stones and bangles.
Both men and women were buried in the graves. Some were found with uniforms and decorations.
O'Reilly estimated that testing of samples sent to the UK would indicate the remains
were from between 300 and 600 A.D.
"I can say the people of Phum Snay were probably very wealthy and technically
advanced, and had many weapons such as big swords," O'Reilly said.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts will hold a press conference in late April
to release the results of the team's excavation work.