o’chrou district, Banteay Meanchey – Bones unearthed by looters at an ancient burial site in Banteay Meanchey are to be blessed and re-housed in a newly built stupa during a ceremony today, officials said.
A frenzy of digging began in the area last year after bones and artifacts, thought to date from about 300 AD, were uncovered during construction of a latrine, but police supposedly halted the plundering in June.
A visit to the area last week revealed large piles of skulls and bones being stored in a makeshift wooden hut beside Prasat Souphy pagoda, in which a brand new $10,000 stupa has been built.
Heritage Watch Director Dougald O’Reilly said Wednesday that based on the information he had, the 1,700-year-old site was potentially a very valuable one for scholars and archaeologists.
For local villager Hoeun Thorn, 24, the site carries a spiritual
“Our ancestors’ spirits will be calmed by this new stupa, and the souls of the diggers will be improved, too,” he said.
Sor Phream, 35, a villager at the site, said last week that digging had only stopped in late June and pointed out a number of digging sites that had been refilled.
“The authorities told us to stop, as we were destroying our own ancestors’ graveyard,” he said. Sor Phream said he had once found an amber pendant that he had sold for $2.50.
“We knew it was bad to dig the graves,” said Peb Srel, 49, “but people have no money, so what can they do?”
Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean said he had collected donations to build the stupa.
A Buddhist ceremony would be held to bless the remains before their interment today, he said Tuesday.
Hun Hean said he was motivated to organize the collection out of respect for his ancestors.
“I thought to myself that these bones are someone’s parents, and they have been dug up and abandoned,” he said, adding that some locals had come to the idea that they could continue digging because police would not arrest them around election time.
“This is not true, and the information might have incited people to dig more,” he said.
Provincial Culture Director Pov Samnang said Provincial Governor Oung Oeun will also participate in today’s ceremony. He added that the Tourism Ministry intended to charge tourists who want to visit the site.
Any money paid would go toward upkeep of the area, he said.