Several hundred whole and broken pots and jugs have been removed from the hull of a wooden ship, possibly dating from the seventh century, that was discovered earlier this month off the coast of Koh Sdech island in Koh Kong province, officials said Sunday.
Khim Sarith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture, said Cambodian navy divers were continuing to remove the pots from the site 20 to 30 meters below the surface.
“We have not taken all of them out yet,” he said. “We don’t know how many there are.”
A seven-member committee headed by National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy, formed to handle the ship’s recovery, would check to be sure that the divers had not intentionally left some of the pots behind in order to salvage them privately later. But he said he doubted that this was the case.
The ship, which is apparently in good condition, cannot be salvaged until all the pots are recovered, he added.
Chuch Poeun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, said the pots were being kept in a warehouse belonging to Koh Kong casino tycoon Ly Yong Phat, who has pledged to build a museum in the province.
Koh Kong Deputy Police Commissioner Tuon Pisey said that day and night patrols have been mounted to guard the warehouse and to patrol the waters above the ship.
Some expressed concern Sunday that if the excavation were unsupervised and uncontrolled it could damage the archeological value of the site.
“Artifacts without an archeological context are valuable as art but their information value goes down when they’re not properly excavated,” said Terressa Davis, project coordinator at Heritage Watch.
Tamara Teneishvili, program specialist for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Phnom Penh, said that problems can occur when artifacts are too quickly removed from the environment in which they have been conserved.
“If there is immediate contact with oxygen and air, when it’s metal it could very quickly oxidize. When it’s ceramic, it could damage the cover layer. This should always be very carefully done,” she said.