12th Century Stone Heads Found at Banteay Chhmar

The heads and accompanying shoulders of two large sculpted figures were found in the canal surrounding Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province on Sept 4 and 5, an official at the restoration site said yesterday.

Khim Sothin, an archaeologist employed by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that the sculptures dated from the 12th century.

This identifies them as part of the original structure of Banteay Chhmar, he said, built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. The sculptures, which when fitted together are roughly a meter tall from chest to crown and a meter wide across the shoulders, had been buried in mud at a depth of about 1.5 meters at the bottom of the canal.

The restoration of Banteay Chhmar was launched in 2008 by the international organization Global Heritage Fund in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, with plans to submit the site for inclusion on the UN World Heritage List, on which the Angkor Archaeological Park and Preah Vihear temple already appear.

GHF is working to restore the temple, while Mr Sothin’s team is tasked with rebuilding the four entrance bridges that would have spanned the canal. These bridges were originally lined with massive stone figures made of carved sections like those recently discovered, he said, but are now mostly collapsed.

Mr Sothin said that last year his team found and fitted together the constituent pieces of 11 giant stone bodies, but found only two heads.

“It is the second time we have found two heads, but last year only one face is in good condition,” he said, adding that both had been sent to the Banteay Meanchey provincial museum.

Banteay Chhmar compound, which lies some 60 km from Serei Saophoan City, is 800 by 870 meters, and the temple itself is 200 by 200 meters.

Plek Vary, Thma Puok district governor, said that the restoration project would take at least 15 years, adding that in June, the Duke of Gloucester, a member of the British Royal Family with a keen interest in heritage conservation, toured Banteay Chhmar.


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