Villagers Forced To Halt Digging at Burial Site

Villagers packed up their axes, knives and spades on Thursday after they were forced off a recently discovered ancient burial site in Prey Veng province, where they had plundered beads, pottery and the odd scrap of gold, officials said Mon­day.

Police and military police officers removed the villagers’ plastic tents from the cratered rice paddy fields where thousands had come to dig hoping for riches, said provincial culture department director Chea Sa­rim. Most left empty-handed.

“We explained to them that digging for ancient antiquities is illegal,” he said.

He added that many villagers had flocked to the site after rumors circulated that scavengers had found 2 kg of gold.

Prey Veng district police chief Seng Pon Lok said that nobody had been arrested for the illegal excavation because all the villagers had agreed to leave the site peacefully.

Heritage Watch Director Doug­ald O’Reilly said that although larger  sites had been plundered over the years, this frenzied mass descent of local people to illegally excavate the site was unprecedented, destroying hec­tares of burial grounds with amazing speed.

“There was a huge amount of dam­age,” he said, adding that it would now be difficult to date the site without the chance to properly ex­­cavate.

Heritage Watch preliminary ob­servations indicate that the style of burial pre-dates the Angkorian period, when corpses were normally cremated rather than buried.

Heritage Watch project officer Huy Samphors said that the villagers had dug up bracelets and bangles of bronze and human bone, pottery and a variety of beads.

Large, high-quality beads can fetch more than $250 from dealers at the Thai border, but local and Vi­et­namese businessmen at the site in Bit­meas village were buying small beads for as little as $0.03 and larger beads for around $0.75, Huy Sam­phors said.

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