An unusually considerate group of antique collectors brought six brand-new funeral urns to replace the six—probably priceless—urns they allegedly swindled from a pagoda in Takeo province on Sunday, villagers and officials said.
The collectors pulled up in three Toyota Land Cruisers, with an entourage of bodyguards, and paid the monks at Phnom Chiso $10 each to allow them to switch their new urns for the pagoda’s ancient urns, villagers said Monday.
The group—which villagers believe was comprised of high-ranking officials—had visited the pagoda several times before, burning incense sticks and praying before they offered to make the trade, said the villagers, who requested anonymity.
The six urns are covered with ancient carvings and were reportedly unearthed on Phnom Chiso in the 1980s. While not dated precisely, settlement in the area goes back to the 11th century, and local legend holds that the urns once contained the ashes of an ancient royal family.
Villagers said the urns were kept in the Phnom Chiso pagoda for safekeeping and were worshipped by some visitors.
Takeo Province Police Chief Nou Sangwa and Deputy Chief Soun Thon both said Monday they are investigating the villagers allegations.
Uong Von, director of the heritage department at the Ministry of Culture, said Monday he will send his colleagues to the pagoda to try to determine the value of the urns.
He decried both the tricksters and the monks at the pagoda, who, he said, were also guilty for allowing the switch take place.
“Some of our people just don’t understand our heritage,” said Uong Von, adding that the monks were likely unaware of the historical importance of the ancient urns.
“They think everything over 50 years old is ancient,” he said.
Chan Sarun, CPP parliamentarian for Takeo province and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Monday he was unaware of the incident, but would launch his own inquiry.