New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi

Over the weekend, fellow rock art enthusiast Francesco Germi and I took a day trip from Bangkok to Saraburi province to visit Wat Phraphuttachai, a temple known for its Buddhist and ‘prehistoric’ rock art. For my doctoral research, I studied rock art sites across Mainland Southeast Asia that had later become religious shrines and so this site was of some personal interest.

Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi province, Thailand
Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi province, Thailand

Wat Phraphuttachai is located on a cliff face and the gold-roofed pavilion at the side of the cliff contains its namesake: a Buddhist rock painting in which is said to be an imprint of the Buddha himself.

Buddha's imprint, the 'Phraphutthachai' of Wat Phraphuttachai
Buddha’s imprint, the ‘Phraphutthachai’ of Wat Phraphuttachai

Just beside the entrance of this pavilion is a small section of wall that contain some other rock paintings. The rock art, which was gazetted by the Fine Arts Department in 1935, consists of hand prints, some honeycomb designs and an assortment of fragmentary red paintings. Most are extremely hard to see today.

The cliff side of Wat Phraphuttachai. The rock art is located just to the right of the pavilion's entrance, behind the Buddha statues.
The cliff side of Wat Phraphuttachai. The rock art is located just to the right of the pavilion’s entrance, behind the Buddha statues.
Red handprints and examples of very faded paintings at the site
Red hand prints and examples of very faded paintings at the site.

It wasn’t until we got back home and started to analyse our pictures with DStretch that we realised that one section of the wall with fragmentary paintings was actually a massive and magnificent image of the Buddha! Like the Phraphutthachai image, this Buddha is also life-sized but is more embellished.

New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the "wings" can be seen easily.
New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the “wings” can be seen easily.

I’m wondering now if the paintings all belong to the historic Buddhist period, rather than a two-layer prehistoric-then-Buddhist occupation. It could be some of the earlier paintings that were called human and animal figures were really misidentified. Finding this elaborate Buddhist image was quite cool, and if any readers could comment on the style of art, we would like to hear them – leave a comment below. For now, we have submitted a preliminary report of the finding to the Fine Arts Department of Thailand.

SOAS statue: school denies it was smuggled, but provenance has not yet been established

via The Nation, 16 June 2018: SOAS denies that the donated statue was smuggled but critics point out that the provenance of the statue is lacking, or at least has not yet been established (see other links at the end of this post).

London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has denied claims the prestigious institution possesses a 13th-century sculpture likely smuggled from Thailand

Source: Thai Buddha statue not smuggled: SOAS – The Nation

See also:

MoU promotes cross-border trips between Angkor and Sukhothai

via Bangkok Post, 15 June 2018:

Thailand’s Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta) yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cambodia’s Apsara Authority to exchange knowledge and expertise about community-based tourism and World Heritage Site management.

Source: MoU promotes cross-border trips

London university accused of accepting smuggled sculpture

via The Nation, 14 June 2018: A developing story about the donation of a Lopburi-style sculpture to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, that was accepted without documentation of provenance. The details were first released by Dr Angela Chiu, an independent scholar, on her website.

The Culture and Foreign ministries are following up an accusation made by London University’s prominent School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), that it accepted as a gift a 13th-century sculpture possibly smuggled from Thailand.

Source: London university accused of accepting smuggled sculpture – The Nation

See also:

[Talk] Mystery of the Prehistoric Log Coffin Culture in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province

Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this talk at the Siam Society on Thursday by Prof. Rasmi Shoocongdej.

Mortuary practice is an important indicator of past ideology and its analysis can be developed by classifying burials into specific types, a method which can limit our understanding of mortuary variability, particularly the horizontal and vertical scales of social organization. Research in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son province, on the Thai-Myanmar border, has revealed the unique features of log coffins placed on posts inside caves atop limestone cliffs. The log coffin culture dates to 2,200-1,000 years ago and bears similarities with the hanging coffins of the extant local inhabitants, the Yue, who are associated with the Tai peoples of Yunnan, South China. This talk will present an overview of Log Coffin culture in Thailand in relation to China and Southeast Asia, through a cross-cultural approach. It will also examine the cemetery organization from the Ban Rai Rockshelter and Long Long Rak Cave sites of Highland Pang Mapha, through a temporal and spatial analysis of the archaeological evidence, to assess the stylistic approach and mortuary practice as units of analysis for the symbolic and cultural landscape, cemetery organization and social memory. The resulting analyses will help our understanding of mortuary and social organization of ancient Highland communities and the complex interactions between South China and Southeast Asia.

Source: Mystery of the Prehistoric Log Coffin Culture in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province. A Talk by Rasmi Shoocongdej

Bringing back the forgotten palace

via Bangkok Post, 12 June 2018: Wang Na, or the Front Palace, is more commonly known as the National Museum in Bangkok.

While the Grand Palace is world famous for its palatial architecture, the old Front Palace, or Wang Na, of ancient viceroys is hidden in obscurity although its beauty is second to none. Today it is just known simply as the National Museum Bangkok, rather than a palace with deep historical and artistic significance.

Source: Bringing back the forgotten palace

Ancient paintings found in Krabi cave

via The Nation, 07 June 2018: New rock art discovered in Southern Thailand – very exciting, and there seems to be some clear similarities with other rock art sites in the region which may indicate a local style.

More than 60 ancient paintings, thought to be around 3,000-5,000 years old, have been found at the Khao Pru Tee Mae cliff in Mount Chong Lom, Ao Luek, Krabi.

Source: Ancient paintings found in Krabi cave – The Nation

Features from Royal Crematorium divided, on display across country

via The Nation, 07 June 2018:

The deconstruction of the King Rama IX’s Royal Crematorium is completed and the Culture Ministry’s Fine Arts Department has relocated some components for display at various palaces and museums around the country, Deputy Prime Minister Visanu Krua-ngam announced at Government House on Wednesday.

Source: Features from Royal Crematorium divided, on display across country – The Nation

A historical soap reveals a lot about modern Thai politics

via The Economist, 31 May 2018: It’s a little late in the game, but a summary of the Buppaesanniwas phenomenon and the effects of this historical-fantasy soap opera set in Ayutthaya.

It’s about far more than dressing up

Source: A historical soap reveals a lot about modern Thai politics