A leading heritage NGO has warned that looters have nearly stripped bare one of
the country's most important ancient burial sites.
A report from the
United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (Unesco) said that
90 percent of the site at Phum Snay village in the country's north-west has been
looted, and the remaining 10 percent will be gone soon unless immediate action
"This site is imperiled very seriously and soon there will be
nothing left. I would estimate that nearly 80-90 percent of the site has already
been lost with no end in sight," Canadian archaeologist, Dr Dougald O'Reilly,
wrote in his report to Unesco earlier this year.
He added: "It is hoped
that further excavation at Phum Snay will reveal more information on this
critical period before the site is lost forever."
Hing Tim, director of
Banteay Meanchey's cultural office, was equally outraged.
"I think that
Prime Minister Hun Sen should issue a strong 'order' to stop this illegal
activity," he said, expressing concern that important historical information was
being lost. Tim said that despite a ban on illegal excavation, villagers were
still digging for artifacts that they sell on for a few hundred baht.
told the Post that when he visited the site last week with the provincial
police, he saw villagers digging up graves. He blamed food shortages for the
problem, adding that both Cambodian and Thai middlemen were fueling the problem
by encouraging villagers to dig for gems and artifacts.
"As soon as the
police leave the site, they start to dig again - all day and night. Thai
middlemen have offered them 200 baht for each jewelry gemstone," he said. "I
think a policeman should be deployed at every house to maintain surveillance."
However, he admitted this could be difficult since many graves were
located underneath villagers' houses.
The cemetery was discovered in May
2000 when the World Food Program, which was building a road linking Route 6 to
the village, uncovered human bones, ceramic pottery and gold and bronze jewelry
Officials from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts
(MoC) then visited the site and decided to distribute rice to the villagers to
prevent them digging illegally.
In February this year Dr O'Reilly led an
excavation of the site in collaboration with MoC and the Royal University of
In his report, Dr O'Reilly noted that his team had found 300
artifacts in nine prehistoric graves. Among the items uncovered were ceramic
vessels, glass beads, grinding stones, carnelian beads, bronze bangles, iron
tools and weapons, and human and animal bones.
Although he was still
waiting for carbon testing results, Dr O'Reilly estimated that the cemetery
dated from 300-500 AD, Cambodia's Late Iron Age.
under-secretary of state at the MoC, said the cemetery was the biggest ever
found in Cambodia.
"We found at least 10 skeletons within only 100 square
meters digging only two meters deep," Phoeurn said. "If we will continue to dig
deeper, we will learn more about the first occupants of villages and will learn
more about what crops the people planted."
He said the findings were
very important for Cambodian history because it showed aspects of ancient
culture such as beliefs, their civilization and how they lived. He added that
the MoC would conduct another excavation early next year in the dry season.