New book on Battambang Museum collection aimed at preventing sale of stolen statues

The Cambodian Museum of Culture has just published a book of stolen antiquities from the Battambang museum, a move which will likely assist in the future repatriation of artefacts if they show up in the art market.

Images from the Wat Po Veal museum. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160607
Images from the Wat Po Veal museum. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160607

With New Book, Quest to Recover Stolen Battambang Statues Begins
Cambodia Daily, 07 June 2016

The Ministry of Culture released a book on Monday of about 68 Khmer sculptures that were stolen from museums in Battambang City during decades of war and conflict, and intends to use the publication in a global search to recover the artifacts.

The result of a painstaking investigation by a restoration team from the National Museum assisted by the French School of the Far East (EFEO), the book proves that, until the early 1970s, the sculptures were at the Battambang Provincial Museum or the Wat Po Veal Museum.

“We want, first of all, to alert the owners of these pieces that what they have is illegally owned: This belongs to the national inventory of Cambodia,” said Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, which supported the book project.

Full story here.

Gold find near Angkor Borei sparks frenzy

Villagers embarked on a treasure hunt for gold when a bead was found in a rice field in Cambodia’s Takeo province. Authorities had to step in to protect the area, which had archaeological significance due to its proximity to Angkor Borei.

Frenzy over the discovery of a gold bead in Takeo. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160606
Frenzy over the discovery of a gold bead in Takeo. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160606

Chance find prompts small-scale gold rush in Takeo
Phnom Penh Post, 06 June 2016

Residents in Takeo province’s Angkor village have flocked to look for gold in a rice field behind the village after a villager tending cows found a gold bead, though authorities have cautioned against the gold rush, saying the area has archaeological significance.

Nob Dol, chief of Prek Phtorl commune, said a mass of villagers rushed to search for gold after the villager found the bead near a dike on his way home on Thursday.

“As I’ve heard, about seven people were lucky to find small beads of gold; some small, some big,” he said. “Some said they found up to [150 grams] of gold. There was also news that some found gold worth $1,000 to $2,000, but I did not see that.”

Officials from the provincial department of culture and fine arts went to the site and asked people to stop digging the field, Dol said. The owner of the rice field also sought help from authorities to halt the digging.

Full story here.

North Korean Angkor museum sees few visitors

The North Korean Angkor Panorama Museum opened last December but is not receiving many visitors. Could it be because at $15, one might as well pay a little bit more and see the actual ruins a few minutes down the road?

Angkor Panorama Museum. Source: NZ Herald 20160602
Angkor Panorama Museum. Source: NZ Herald 20160602

Few visit North Korea-funded Cambodian museum [Link no longer active]
AP, via NZ Herald, 02 June 2016

A North Korean-funded panorama museum in the cultural hub of Siem Reap is getting few visitors.

The Angkor Panorama Museum, reported to have cost US$24 million ($35.2 million) to build, is just minutes away from the historic Angkor Wat temple complex, which receives millions of tourists each year according to Apsara Authority, the government agency responsible for the archaeological site.

However, on Monday there were few visitors to be seen, while museum director Yit Chandaroat admitted the tourist attraction was yet to pull in large crowds since its opening in December.

Rice in Madagascar point to Southeast Asian origin

A new paper in PNAS describes the first tangible evidence that Madagascar was colonised by Southeast Asians who probably spoke an Austronesian language. Charred rice and mung beans found in Madagascar are slightly older than their first appearance in East Africa.

Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531
Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion
PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1522714113

Ancient rice ‘first evidence’ Madagascan ancestors crossed Indian Ocean from South-East Asia
ABC Science, 31 May 2016


The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonization of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Island Southeast Asia, decades of archaeological research have failed to locate evidence for a Southeast Asian signature in the island’s early material record. Here, we present new archaeobotanical data that show that Southeast Asian settlers brought Asian crops with them when they settled in Africa. These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial Southeast Asian settlement in Africa was not limited to Madagascar, but also extended to the Comoros. Archaeobotanical data may support a model of indirect Austronesian colonization of Madagascar from the Comoros and/or elsewhere in eastern Africa.

News story here; download the article here.

Khmer ruins emerge from pond in hot season

Falling reservoir waters caused by the hot season periodically causes ruins to emerge from the ground. One recent example is Tapieng Roun (Khmer – Trapeang?) in Surin province.

Tapieng Roun revealed by drought in Thailand's Surin province. Source: Bangkok Post 20160524
Tapieng Roun revealed by drought in Thailand’s Surin province. Source: Bangkok Post 20160524

Khmer ruins revealed as reservoir dries out
Bangkok Post, 24 May 2016

The ruins of an ancient Khmer temple have been revealed by the receding water in a reservoir that has dried up in Buachet district near the border with Cambodia.

The temple is called Tapien Roun by the people of Otalan Pattana village in tambon Charat. “Tapieng Roun” in the Khmer language means a temple in a pond surrounded by indigenous trees called “roun”.

It is located close to the Thai-Cambodian border, about one kilometre from the village.

Full story here

Profile on Joyce White

A Wall Street Journal article on people who changed career paths features one of our own, Joyce White of the Institute of Southeast Asian Archaeology!

Archaeologist Joyce White. Source: Wall Street Journal 20160510
Archaeologist Joyce White. Source: Wall Street Journal 20160510

When You’re Called to Your Life’s Work
Wall Street Journal, 10 May 2016

Joyce White was an atheist as a graduate student and intent on being an archaeologist in Europe, something she decided when she was about 15 and saw cemetery excavations at medieval churches in England.

During a slide presentation of a professor’s excavation in Thailand, one image captivated her for reasons she still can’t quite explain. The photo was of a field he crossed en route to the site. Pack animals carrying his equipment rested in the field, which ended in a dark tropical forest.

“It was a vivid experience. I saw myself in that slide,” she says. “There was a compelling aesthetic draw of some sort.” She abandoned plans to work in Europe in favor of Southeast Asia. It was a leap. Her professor discouraged her, citing huge cultural and physical obstacles for a woman archaeologist in Thailand.

Full story here.

Singapore studying archaeology laws

A report last month said that the National Heritage Board of Singapore is conducting a study to address the issue of ownership of archaeological material, especially that found in private property which is a legal grey area in Singapore.

Excavations at Victoria Convert Hall in Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20160510
Excavations at Victoria Convert Hall in Singapore. Source: Straits Times 20160510

Study to plug gaps in laws on archaeology
Straits Times, 10 May 2016

A study on archaeology in Singapore is under way to address gaps in laws and regulations in the field.

One area that is being studied is the legal ownership status of archaeological materials unearthed on private land.

Currently, the authorities do not own such items, as only archaeological finds unearthed on state land belong to the state.

The study is conducted by the National Heritage Board (NHB), Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu told Parliament yesterday.

Full story here.

Lidar reveals more, much more, of the cities of Angkor

A new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science has been grabbing the headlines in the last few days: the first insights from the Lidar acquisition of Angkor. It is the most extensive use of Lidar in an archaeological context to date, which brings to greater clarity the urban sprawl of Phnom Kulen, Banteay Chhmar, the Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, Sambor Prei Kuk, Longvek and Oudong. Combined with the earlier acquisition of the core Angkor area in 2012, the Lidar data has uncovered a tremendous amount of information about settlement patterns in these areas.

The data gathered presents a big-picture view of several themes of interest: population flows, urban centres, water management and collapse, and provides starting points for many of these future lines of inquiry. To be sure, the patterns in landscape and features uncovered by the Lidar is spectacular, but many of these features will need to be ‘ground-truthed’ and investigated in real life. (Alison has a good commentary about the potentials and limitations of the Lidar data). All in all, a very exciting start to what is surely a new phase of archaeological understanding of Angkor, and hopefully one with repercussions to the rest of the region as well!

Areas scanned in 2012 and 2015. Source: Journal of Archaeological Science
Areas scanned in 2012 and 2015. Source: Journal of Archaeological Science

Airborne laser scanning as a method for exploring long-term socio-ecological dynamics in Cambodia
Journal of Archaeological Science, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2016.05.009

Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle
The Guardian, 11 June 2016

Medieval cities hidden under jungle in Cambodia revealed using lasers, archaeologists say
AFP, via ABC News, 12 June 2016

New research reveals further secrets of Khmer history
Phnom Penh Post, 13 June 2016

Ancient urban networks around Angkor Wat discovered
AP, via Jakarta Post, 13 June 2016

New technology reveals cities hidden in Cambodian vegetation for thousands of years
Washington Post, 13 June 2016

Archaeologists Reveal Vast, New Medieval Cities In Cambodia
Tech Times, 13 June 2016

Jungle Of Cambodia Reveals Multiple Cities Between 900 to 1400 Years Old
Science World Report, 13 June 2016


Early Khmer societies developed extensive settlement complexes that were largely made of non-durable materials. These fragile urban areas perished many centuries ago, and thus a century and a half of scholarly research has focussed on the more durable components of Khmer culture, in particular the famous temples and the texts and works of art that are normally found within them. In recent years however there has been a considerable effort to broaden the perspective beyond conventional approaches to Khmer history and archaeology. Remarkable advances have been made in the domain of remote sensing and archaeological mapping, including the application of advanced geospatial techniques such as airborne laser scanning within studies of heritage landscapes at Angkor and beyond. This article describes the most recent applications of the technology in Cambodia, including the results of a newly-completed campaign of airborne laser scanning in 2015—the most extensive acquisition ever undertaken by an archaeological project—and underscores the importance of using these methods as part of a problem-oriented research program that speaks to broader issues within history and archaeology.

Article link

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Link to Guardian article here.

Old Kedah Festival news roundup

Old Kedah, or Kedah Tua in Malay, and the archaeological findings of the Bujang Valley in northern Peninsular Malaysia were the focus of a local festival held last month. The events included an international conference, and from the news reports two themes seem apparent: the disagreement on whether the ruins of the Bujang Valley represent an animist or Hindu-Buddhist tradition, and the news that the remains of the Hindu temples that have previously been uncovered in the valley will not be nominated and protected under Unesco World Heritage. There’s a lot of subtext to read between the news reports, but it seems there is an attempt to downplay the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in the Bujang Valley sites.

Source: Bernama, via Malay Mail 20160521
Source: Bernama, via Malay Mail 20160521

Experts disagree on religion practised at ruins older than Borobodur and Angkor Wat
The Star, 21 May 2016

World archaeological experts fascinated by Sungai Batu ancient site
Malay Mail, 21 May 2016

Ministry seeks allocation to develop Sungai Batu into historical tourism site
Malay Mail, 21 May 2016

No to heritage listing on Hindu-Buddhist temple ruins
The Star, 21 May 2016

Religious pluralism a likelihood in Bujang Valley
Free Malaysia Today, 23 May 2016

Ancient seaport of Sg Batu
New Straits Times, 23 May 2016

Sg Batu declared SEA’s oldest civilisation
Free Malaysia Today, 23 May 2016

Bujang Valley: Need for proof to be a heritage site?
The Star, 26 May 2016

Angkor Wat’s causeway renovation

Lost month a restoration project for the main causeway leading to Angkor Wat was launched. The project is led by Sophia University in Japan.

Angkor Wat Causeway. Source: Bangkok Post 20160509
Angkor Wat Causeway. Source: Bangkok Post 20160509

Cambodia, Japan restore Angkor Wat causeway
Kyodo News, via Bangkok Post 09 May 2016

Japan Pledges $26m to Restore Angkor Wat Temples
VOA Khmer, 11 May 2016

Cambodia and Japan began Monday a four-year project to restore the ruined western causeway at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple.

Speaking at the launch of the Angkor Wat restoration project, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said “today’s event reflects the robust spirit of international cooperation and solidarity in the protection, safeguarding and conservation of the heritage of humanity in accordance with the motto ‘heritage for all, all for heritage’.”

Sok An said Japan is playing a significant role in the process, providing financial and technical supports to Cambodia, especially for the conservation and restoration of Bayon Temple and causeway at Angkor Wat, which is the main gateway to the site.

Full stories here and here.