Collection of ‘Priceless’ Artifacts Given to National Museum

A treasure trove of “priceless” ancient artifacts believed to be of Cambodian origin, including gold, bronze and silver jewelry, was on Monday given to the National Museum by a Hungarian collector of Southeast Asian relics, an official said.

Zelnik Istvan, who is director of the Hungarian Southeast Asian Research Institute, officially handed over the items in a ceremony attended by Culture Minister Phoeung Sakona and ministry and museum officials.

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Hungarian art collector Zelnik Istvan, right, and Culture Minister Phoeung Sakona hold artifacts at the National Museum in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“Eighty art objects were handed over to the National Museum, including golden bracelets, gold and bronze leaf and silver bowls” and a silver toilet pot, said Prak Sonnara, director of heritage at the Culture Ministry.

“Zelnik Istvan voluntarily handed over [the art objects] to the National Museum because he understands their cultural value,” Mr. Sonnara said.

Mr. Istvan “bought them from different places,” but the collector didn’t provide details on how they were acquired, Mr. Sonnara added.

“We can’t evaluate how old or which temples they were taken from,” he went on, adding that ministry experts would study the artifacts in order to date them and learn about their origins.

Asked how much the donated objects were worth, Mr. Sonnara said he couldn’t assign them a monetary value.

“It’s priceless cultural heritage,” he said.

The donation was the second time in less than a week that Cambodian artifacts have been handed over by private collectors.

On Friday, officials from the Cambodian Embassy in London received 10 Angkorian gold jewelry pieces from the U.K. gallery Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art, which had listed the items for sale after they were handed over by a private, unidentified collector. It remains unclear how the artifacts left Cambodia and why they were returned to Cambodian officials.

Ministry spokesman Thai Norak Sathya said at the time that he did not know when the jewelry pieces had been removed from Cambodia, but that the law required they be returned.

Ms. Sakona, the culture minister, said the gold pieces donated last week were undoubtedly Cambodian.

“This artistic style is Khmer—there are no other countries that made items like this,” she said.

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