The discovery of hundreds of ancient artefacts – most likely spanning several eras – at a pagoda outside of Phnom Penh this month could shed new light on the poorly understood pre-Angkorian period, a Royal Academy of Cambodia archaeologist said yesterday.
“These finds are the historical evidence for our Khmer-ness,” said Thuy Chanthuon, deputy director of the academy’s Institute of Culture and Fine Arts, who is analysing the findings from the Preah Neak pagoda, located on a hill about 30 kilometres from Phnom Penh in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district.
The artefacts, which included a copper seal buried with a sword, dozens of apparently pre-Angkorian stone tools and coins from the early 1900s, were found just 2 metres or less below the surface.
“The best item is the seal,” said Chanthuon. “It is from the Oudong era, between 300 and 400 years old. The seal and metal sword were likely buried with a man who must have had a high position in the society, [like] an oknha or provincial governor.”
However, Chanthuon said he was only speculating because, due to a lack of funds, he had not been able to conduct a proper excavation or carbon-date any of the finds.
Chanthuon, who is also working on a project in Preah Vihear province documenting ancient iron production sites, lamented the difficulty of acquiring funding for pre-Angkorian projects.
“The government is not interested in these artefacts very much. They’re interested only in Angkor,” he said.
Heng Sophady, deputy director of cultural heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that the ministry did not have plans to fund an excavation of the site.
“As far as, I know, the Ministry of Culture does not have plans to excavate this site. But we work with local authorities to protect them,” he said via email, referring to the local monks.
Chhel Chhorn, the monk who tipped off Chanthuon about the site, said people had been finding ancient relics in the pagoda and surrounding Chhork Chheu Neang commune for years.
“Almost everywhere in this village there are ancient artefacts,” he said.