Two sets of gold royal regalia, which may have been crafted during the reign of Angkorian King Jayavarman VII, were donated to the National Museum of Cambodia by a private collector Friday.
Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok-based collector of Khmer art, handed over the two gold-and-crystal sets during a ceremony at the museum presided over by Cabinet Minister Sok An.
“I’ve been coming to Cambodia for the last 48 years and I have never seen much gold in [the museum’s] collection,” the 76-year-old British collector said before the ceremony Friday. “I have been collecting gold for a number of years and I felt that it would be a good thing—a nice thing—if the museum had some gold which it could display. The most significant pieces that I had were these two sets.”
The king’s set consists of a crown, a pair of ear pendants, a pectoral, a chest-cross chain, and arm and wristbands. The queen’s set includes a hair cover, a pectoral, an armlet and a chest-cross chain.
“This [donation] is extraordinary,” Museum Director Hab Touch said Friday as he was getting the three-dimensional display case ready. “These outstanding pieces,” he said, “are very important in terms of historical value and the identity of Cambodia.”
“I hope that others will consider returning such important pieces to Cambodia,” he added.
The sets are believed to date from the 12th or 13th centuries because similar ornaments can be seen on royal figures sculpted on the walls of the Bayon and other Angkorian temples of that era, which may put them from the reign of King Jayavarman VII, Hab Touch said.
So far, the museum’s gold artifacts have been limited to Buddhist images on gold leaves, he said. Prior to the 1970s, its collection had included artifacts of gold and precious stones, which seemed to have disappeared during that decade of turmoil, Hab Touch said.
As a result, he said, few Cambodians have ever seen pre-Angkorian or Angkorian gold objects.
While researching the book “Khmer Gold, Gifts for the Gods” released last week, Latchford, who co-authored the book with researcher Emma Bunker, discovered that most of the very few pieces of Angkorian gold in existence are in private collections.
Many of those pieces, including the two sets he donated to the museum, were found 20 to 30 years ago by farmers plowing fields or people using metal detectors, he said.
“Generally, Khmer gold is found, not buried in the ground by itself, but intentionally wrapped and put in a container,” Latchford said. “The Khmers did not bury jewelry with their dead. I think the concept is that, as with the bronzes, gold was put away because it was special and expensive.”
In times of war and conflict, they would carefully bury the gold objects in the hope of recovering them when peace would return, he said.
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