Looted Artifacts Recovered, but Value Questioned

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.


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