Asking Buddhist monks to educate villagers about the value of ancient Khmer culture is the only way to slow the digging near one of the country’s most important archaeological sites, Angkor Borei, Takeo Governor Kep Chuk Tema said Monday.
Some experts believe that Angkor Borei was the center of the Funan Kingdom, which existed 2,000 years ago and covered much of Cambodia and southern Vietnam.
Kep Chuk Tema said officials do not have the funds to hire guards to keep an eye on Angkor Borei, so they are focusing on educating villagers about the value of preserving Khmer antiques.
Monks so far are playing a crucial role in educating villagers about the harm that their digging can cause, the governor said.
Still, Kep Chuk Tema said it’s difficult to persuade villagers to stop digging near Angkor Borei, located about 70 km south of Phnom Penh.
“It’s very hard to prevent villagers from digging up the site because they mostly unearth spots in their house, looking for ancient antiques,” he said.
Most of the villagers had lived in the area for a long time and did not know about the archaeological site until a team from Hawaii University came to the area earlier this year. The researchers dug up the site and took antiques for research.
“After villagers saw the research team digging up valuable objects, they too started digging up things to make some money,” Prince Sisowath Panara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told Reuters.
So far villagers have found only clay pots, Kep Chuk Tema said.
“We could not arrest villagers on account of finding a piece of an ancient clay pot,” he said.
If villagers find any big statues, they will be arrested and the artifacts will be confiscated, Kep Chuk Tema said.