In the mid-1960s, French archaeologist Roland Mourer and his team of Cambodian students excavated a site in Battambang province’s Ratanak Mondol district and, based on laboratory tests and analysis, concluded that people had lived in the area as far back as 8,000 years ago.
Last month a Cambodian and French team revisited the site of Long Spean and, although the thousands of artifacts they collected—pottery shards, stone tool flecks, human and animal bone fragments—remain to be studied, indications are that the site may be far older than previously believed, said Heng Sophady, deputy general director of heritage at the Ministry of Culture and an archaeologist involved with the dig.
“Based on our own excavation, we expect that it will be older,” maybe as much as 12,000 years old, Mr Sophady said.
“It is the oldest site that we have found in Cambodia showing clear signs of occupation,” he said, adding that older sites may be found in the future.
Mr Sophady was one of the speakers at the conference “Recent Research on Prehistory in Cambodia” on Saturday. The one-day event attracted more than 100 archaeologists and archaeology students—most of them Cambodians—who filled the National Museum’s meeting room to capacity and bombarded speakers with questions, upsetting the organizers’ tight schedule.
Mr Sophady said that his team—which is funded by France’s Institut de recherche pour le développement, or research for development institute—found evidence of two cultures at the site by analyzing stone-tool flakes. Excavation will resume in mid-November 2010.
In Prey Veng province, another team discovered bronze drums in burial grounds in use for more than 300 years up to the first century, said Vin Laychour, deputy director general for cultural affairs at the Ministry of Culture. “Usually the drums are used for rituals,” he said. People may have left them in the graves for their dead to take into their future lives, he said.
This burial site of Prohear in Svay Anthor district was excavated last year and this February and March with funding from the German archaeological Institute, Mr Laychour said. It is located in a village and has been looted repeatedly because some burials contain gold jewelry, he said.
Phon Kaseka, an archaeologist and researcher with the Royal Academy of Cambodia talked of the data collected during the Phnom Borei dig in Takeo province’s Angkor Borei district in 2004, which revealed that people had lived in the area from 2,200 years ago up to the eighth century.
The site yielded more than 1,000 kg of pottery alone, including an unusual red type called buff ware. Mr Kaseka said that, funding permitting, he would like to study the economy of the region as he is intrigued by this pottery that has been found nowhere else in Cambodia.
Presentations included a report by Noguchi Hiroshi of Japan’s Nanzan University on earthen wall sites in the western Mekong River region and an analysis of Southeast Asian bronzes by Yoshimitsu Hirao of Japan’s Beppu University.
According to Chhum Menghong, an archaeology student completing his master’s degree in Japan, the conference was a great opportunity for archaeologists to share information and their findings.
The conference was meant for people to meet and discuss the latest developments, said conference organizer Christophe Pottier, an archaeologist with the Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient.
“Prehistory is a field in which there are numerous discoveries right now [in Cambodia],” he said. Until recently, little research had been conducted on Cambodia’s prehistory, he said. Most efforts and funding have gone into monument restoration, especially Angkor park in Siem Reap province.
“Our knowledge of Cambodia’s prehistory needs to be deepened,” said Culture Ministry Secretary of State Chuch Phoeurn, an archaeologist who opened the conference.