Nearly 50 artifacts looted from ancient graves in Banteay Meanchey province and recovered by officials were handed over to the National Museum in Phnom Penh late last week, officials said. But some say their value remains to be seen.
The Cambodian National Commission for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on Friday gave 40 clay pots and six bronze sculptures to museum officials.
The items were recovered from villagers in Banteay Meanchey’s Preah Netr Preah district one year ago, said Tan Theany, secretary-general of the commission. She said that it is unclear how old they are or what they were used for.
“The problem is that they were looted, and they have no context. Those are now just something you can look at,” said Dougald O’Reilly, director of the NGO Heritage Watch. “As far as trying to understand the past, they are useless.”
Archaeologists have long lamented grave looting, saying it chips away at artifacts necessary to understand pre-Angkorian Cambodia.
“People are short on money, so they start to make money by digging ancient graves. Provincial authorities have a duty to stop them,” said Uong Von, director of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art’s heritage department. He added that he believes the number of graves being looted is in decline, at least in Banteay Meanchey. “Authorities crack down and educate people. Some people are punished for [grave] destruction,” he said.
But Tan Theany said looting remains a serious problem. “When looters do get the artifacts, we implore them not to sell and ask them to hand [items] over. People should stop digging ancient graves,” she said.