Precious ancient objects continue to be found at the site of an ancient temple in Kompong Thom province, unearthed by stubborn pagoda-builders digging against cultural officials’ orders.
On Monday, two stone nagas were found on the Baray district site, as well as a large stone whose decoration indicates that it was used as an ancient king’s throne foot-rest, said Nong Savath, chief monk of the new pagoda being built on the site.
Recently 32 gold, silver and copper Buddha statues were found among the ruins of the centuries-old Vihear Bak temple, destroyed during decades of war.
All of the artifacts have been found as the Por Pech pagoda committee, headed by Nong Savath, digs foundation holes for the pagoda it is building on the site.
Although officials from the Ministry of Culture and the provincial Department of Religion have ordered the committee to stop, the digging continues.
The committee has dug 60 holes, at least four of which have revealed troves of historic objects, Nong Savath said.
Under a recently passed subdecree, digging without a scientific permit on archaeological sites—thereby disrupting valuable clues to Cambodia’s little-known ancient history—is illegal. So is buying and selling cultural objects.
Leam Saran, deputy director of the provincial Religion Department, said he will meet with the Por Pech monks next week.
“Some of the monks might not understand how important these ancient things are. I will educate them and ask them to stop construction,” he said. “I ordered [Nong Savath] to stop construction and he refused. He should be fired for his mistakes…I can’t fire him right now because he has high-ranking supporters in the government, but I will ask the villagers to support me.”
Teruo Jinnai, cultural program specialist for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said protecting cultural objects such as these falls under the Ministry of Culture’s jurisdiction. “They have the power to apply the subdecree.
“They should work closely with local and provincial authorities,” Jinnai said.
(Additional reporting by Molly Ball)