Archaeological digging has begun at the site of an ancient cemetery in Banteay Meanchey province’s Preah Netr Preah district, where experts have uncovered bronze, iron and jewel-encrusted artifacts that until recently had attracted unchecked looting.
The Ministry of Culture and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies are working together on the Japan-funded excavation in Rohal commune’s Snay village, said Yayoi Kishi, a researcher in the Japanese Embassy’s Culture Section.
Archaeologists at the site and experts at the HeritageWatch NGO, which excavated in the area several years ago, estimate some artifacts found there to be about 2,000 years old.
The excavation officially started Jan 16, said Sergey Lapteff, vice director of the project.
“[This is] a site of great importance,” Lapteff said.
Bronze artifacts found there bear cultural similarity to ancient artifacts found in Ban Chiang in Thailand’s Udon Thani province, the site of one of the world’s oldest bronze cultures, Lapteff said. Experts have also unearthed jade and rare beads at the site in Banteay Meanchey, he added.
“Some of these objects are unique, never found in Southeast Asia before,” he said.
Excavation of the cemetery, as well as five or six other sites in the area, will be conducted over the next five years.
There are also plans for a museum to be built at the site as early as 2008, Lapteff said.
Provincial Deputy Governor Sok Sareth said the site will become an attractive tourist destination once a museum has been built.
According to Dougald O’Reilly, director of HeritageWatch, Snay village is “one of the sites that started the boom in looting” around the country.
The five-year project will discourage looters while protecting important artifacts, said Khim Sarith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture.
District and village officials have formed “safeguard committees” to protect sites against looters, he said.