The staircase of Phnom Kulen

Archaeologists turn their attention to a mysterious massive staircase on Phnom Kulen, thought to be constructed in Angkoran times.

The 487-meter ascent to sacred Phnom Kulen in Siem Reap province is steep and rocky. At some point between the ninth and 13th centuries, a powerful leader decided to forge a clearer path.

Source: Archaeologists Scale History of Ancient Staircase – The Cambodia Daily

Bagan quake roundup

On August 24, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit central Myanmar, which affected over 400 of the temples in Bagan causing structural damage and collapse in some cases. There were relatively little human fatalities, fortunately.

Damage to Sulamani temple in Bagan. Source: BBC
Damage to Sulamani temple in Bagan. Source: BBC

Myanmar earthquake kills three, damages scores of ancient temples
Channel NewsAsia, 24 August 2016

Myanmar earthquake: One dead and temples damaged
BBC, 24 August 2016

Myanmar Quake Damages at Least 185 Bagan Pagodas
AP, via Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2016

Myanmar earthquake harms pagodas in ancient city of Bagan
NewsNation, 24 August 2016

Powerful quake kills at least three, damages Bagan pagodas
Myanmar Times, 25 August 2016

Famous Bagan pagodas damaged
AFP, via The Tribune, 25 August 2016

Myanmar earthquake: Images from Bagan historic sites
BBC, 25 August 2016

Bagan After the Quake: Concerns Over Manhandling of Debris
The Irrawady, 25 August 2016

Myanmar Earthquake Damages Bagan Temples
AP, via US News, 25 August 2016

Than Zaw Oo: ‘A Natural Disaster Can’t Devalue Bagan’s Heritage’
The Irrawady, 25 August 2016

Director-General of UNESCO expresses solidarity with the people of Myanmar after earthquake in Bagan
Unesco, 26 August 2016

Myanmar President Visits Bagan to Survey Quake-Damaged Pagodas
RFA, via Malaysia Sun, 26 August 2016

Research teams assesses Bagan damage
The Nation, 26 August 2016

Don’t rush Bagan fixes: state counsellor
Myanmar Times, 26 August 2016

Quake destroys Bagan murals
Eleven Myanmar, 28 August 2016

Myanmar Earthquake Rattles Temples of Bagan
Artnet News, 29 August 2016

Nearly 400 Bagan pagodas damaged by earthquake: govt
Myanmar Times, 29 August 2016

Volunteers in Bagan Trained in Earthquake Recovery
The Irrawady, 29 August 2016

Damaged pagodas covered in quake-hit Bagan
Myanmar Times, 01 September 2016

Volunteers Help Rebuild Bagan
Myanmore, 02 September 2016

Bagan earthquake: Is there a silver lining for Myanmar?
BBC, 08 September 2016

Prohibited Bagan pagodas named
Eleven Myanmar, 09 September 2016

The Trouble With Temple Restoration in Myanmar
The Diplomat, 26 September 2016

Two Temples in Bagan Collapse Two Months After Earthquake
The Irrawady, 27 October 2016

The mystery of Suryavarman I’s temple solved

Dating of metal fixings in the architecture at the Baphuon temple in Angkor Thom have led researchers to conclude that it was built as the mountain temple of King Suryavarman I who reigned in the 11th century.

Baphuon. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160620
Baphuon. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160620

Metal Findings Give New Perspective on Angkorian History
Cambodia Daily, 20 June 2016

One thing that set Suryavarman I apart from other great kings—to the puzzlement of historians and archaeologists—was that he did not seem to have erected his own mountain temple: Jayavarman V built Ta Keo in the 10th century, Suryavarman II Angkor Wat in the early 12th century and Jayavarman VII the Bayon in the late 12th century.

But that mystery seems to have been solved thanks to cutting-edge research into the iron used to build the Baphuon temple, the second largest structure in Angkor Archaelogical Park after Angkor Wat.

This three-tiered pyramid was the monument that Suryavarman I built, according to carbon-dating of the metal used to hold the temple together.

“It’s very strange that a king with that amount of influence and power didn’t build himself anything in Angkor,” said archaeologist Mitch Hendrickson of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who headed the research team along with archaeometallurgist Stephanie Leroy of the Archaeomaterials and Alteration Prediction Laboratory in France.

Full story 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.

Ancient well found in Central Vietnam

The remains of a well, thought to belong to the 12th century Cham period, was discovered in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province.

Ancient well discovered in Quảng Nam Province
Viet Nam News, 06 May 2016

An ancient well has been discovered in Quảng Nam Province due to the joint efforts carried by the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism and local administrators and villagers of Hương An Commune to protect an ancient Chăm well that has been excavated in the region.

The ancient well, which is presumed to be built in the 12th century, has square structure, each side of which is nearly 1m long. It is made of ancient Chăm bricks, similar to materials used in other Chăm temples within Quảng Nam Province.

According to Tôn Thất Hướng, head of the department, archeologists have confirmed through their studies and surveys that a Chăm community used to inhabit in the area surrounding the ancient well for many centuries.

Full story here.

Thai Military builds Preah Vihear replica; quickly demolished soon after

A local Thai military commander builds a small replica of Preah Vihear near the original temple in the Thai side of the border in the hopes of boosting domestic tourism. But just as the attraction is set to open, the replica is shut down for fear of conflict with Cambodia. It’s been five years since hostilities ceased between the two countries over the World Heritage Site, and this episode shows how sensitive the issue remains in the region.

Replica Preah Vihear in Si Sa Ket Province. Source: Bangkok Post 20160425
Replica Preah Vihear in Si Sa Ket Province. Source: Bangkok Post 20160425

Military builds Preah Vihear temple replica
Bangkok Post, 25 April 2016

Khao Phra Viharn’s replica at Pha More E-daeng will open to public in May
Thai PBS, 27 April 2016

Phrea Vihear temple replica opening put on hold
Thai PBS, 09 May 2016

Commander moved, temple replica to be demolished
Thai PBS, 10 May 2016

Construction of the temple replica built at the cost of five million baht finished just a few weeks ago and open to public for visits briefly before it was ordered shut down by the Army chief.

The temple replica was said to promote tourism to Mor E-Daeng cliff after the original Preah Vihear temple is not yet open to visitors by Cambodia.

The cliff is about 700 metres from the Hindhu temple in Cambodia.

Matichon said Gen Teerachai also ordered the demolition of the temple replica as it might affect the current good relations of the two countries.

He also said the Foreign Ministry had earlier voiced disagreement to the construction of the temple replica.

Full story here.

Minister slams government for lack of Bujang Valley protection

A state minister in Malaysia has criticised the federal government of Malaysia for not protecting the Bujang Valley in Kedah as a heritage site.

Bujang Valley Museum

Ramasamy furious Bujang Valley not yet a heritage site
FMT News, 22 April 2016

Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy has slammed the federal government for not preserving the historical Bujang Valley in Kedah by gazetting it as a heritage site.

The DAP leader was responding to a recent report in The Sun that a group of local university students were found playing “station games” atop a candi (ancient tomb or temple built during the Hindu and Buddhist periods) at the Archaeological Museum there.

“Despite the monuments there dating back more than 2000 years, the site has not received the kind of attention that is due from the Malaysian government.

“While the Bujang Valley has not been gazetted as a heritage site despite many requests, the ancient monuments and sites face the danger of being abused or even demolished by unscrupulous land developers,” he said in a statement today, citing the demolition of a reconstructed candi by a developer to make way for a housing project in the valley, several years ago.

Full story here.

The solar alignments of Angkorian temples

A recently-published archaeoastronomy paper discusses the direct connection between the orientation of Angkorian temples with rising and setting of the sun during the equinoxes, but more importantly that the slight deviation along the east-west orientation of most of the temples were in face deliberate.

Angkor Wat. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160425
Angkor Wat. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160425

Tech used to prove Angkor’s link to sun
Phnom Penh Post, 25 April 2016

An Italian professor has set about the task of verifying with angles and axes what has long been theorised about Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat – that the temples took their cues from the sky.

Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Politecnico di Milano, used modern technology to test age-old thought in a bid to prove the clear orientation of buildings to the west was “connected with the temple’s symbolism and the management of power by the Khmer kings”.

“I only believe in what I can measure,” Magli told the Post, explaining his motivation to map precisely the orientation of the temples.

Full story here; access the paper here.

Mrauk-U restoration fraught with problems

A news report from the Irrawaddy highlights various problems with a recent campaign to restore the monuments of Mrauk-U in western Myanmar: improper restoration techniques, unauthorised construction and mismanagement of funds.

Monuments in Mrauk-U improperly restored. Source: The Irrawaddy 20160224
Monuments in Mrauk-U improperly restored. Source: The Irrawaddy 20160224

The Million Dollar Mismanagement of Mrauk U
The Irrawady, 24 February 2016

At Mrauk U, Living Heritage and Crumbling Splendor in Need of Conservation
The Irrawady, 26 February 2016

At Mrauk U, Living Heritage and Crumbling Splendor in Need of Conservation
The Irrawady, 26 February 2016

Throughout outgoing President Thein Sein’s term, the Arakan State government spent 1.5 billion kyats (over US$1.2 million) to preserve the remnants of the ancient Arakanese Mrauk U kingdom, according to the state’s annual audit report.

Yet some officials connected with the project allege that it has been fraught with mismanagement. Khin Than, chairperson of Mrauk U-based Heritage Trust, claims that halls within two famous temple complexes—the Ko-thaung and Shite-thaung pagodas—were damaged by government contractors’ negligence. New shrines were built alongside originals, she added—constructed out of concrete and sandstone.

Archaeologists and scholars of Mrauk U, which boasts more than 1,500 documented temples, have advocated for its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but fear that unscrupulous renovation of the ancient locale will put such an achievement further from reach.

Full story here and here.