via Chiang Mai City Life, 01 Mar 2019: Reflections on the process of nomination a property for World Heritage listing.
You may be surprised to learn that Chiang Mai is well on its way to submitting its final dossier to UNESCO in our bid to become Thailand’s first living heritage city. It has involved an extraordinary amount of work by people from many sectors. And while UNESCO suggests an indicative timeframe of ten years for the preparation of nominations, and we have been at it for just over three years since we were placed on the tentative list in 2015, those leading the charge say that they may be ready to submit in as little as a year’s time. If accepted, this would be a great honour and boon for Chiang Mai; if not, the process itself has been an invaluable asset to the development of the city…and we will still have many years to regroup and reapply.
via Bangkok Post, 07 and 09 Mar 2019: While I’m bringing to attention the recent plans to drill for oil next to one of the ruins in Si Thep, it’s a good idea to take a step back and appreciate the significance of Si Thep in the first place. The temple ruins are only the most recent archaeological vestige; the area has been occupied for at least the last 2000 years, developing into a moated settlement with distinct Dvaravati and Khmer periods. This transformation over time which can be detected by archaeology is part of what makes Si Thep an exceptional heritage site.
The Dvaravati monument and the park, which hopes to one day be included in Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites, have recently been a hot topic in the media. But not because of the Unesco bid. (The nomination is still in the planning process.) Si Thep was in the news because an oil drilling operation is set to be carried out close to Khao Khlang Nok stupa. How close? Reportedly, around 100m.
Civic groups in the province as well as the Fine Arts Department, which oversees the historical park, protested the project, as it is a potential threat to the 1,300-year-old religious monument. While it is still unclear how the conflict will be resolved, perhaps we should take this opportunity to get to know a few things about Khao Khlang Nok and Si Thep.
The historical park can be explored on foot or, even better, by bicycle. According to archaeological studies, the area now designated as the historical park has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Excavations have turned up human skeletons buried with pottery and other objects dating back 2,000 years. Over the centuries, the settlement developed. During the Dvaravati period, which was heavily influenced by Indian cultures, it became a moated town, and continued to prosper throughout the period of Khmer dominance.
via ThaiPublica.com, 08 Mar 2019: An article in Thai by my friend Phachaporn Phanomvan na Ayutthaya about the economics of drilling and the potential for the heritage industry in Si Thep. She proposes a minimum 5km buffer zone around Si Thep to protect the ancient ruins from the impact of oil drilling. At the end of the article is the Environmental Impact Assessment from the oil company proposing to drill next to Khao Klang Nok. It’s entirely in Thai, but there isn’t much in the assessment that addresses heritage protection.
via MGR Online, 08 Mar 2019: The Thai cabinet at a meeting on Friday has approved the nomination of Si Thep as a Unesco World Heritage site, effectively starting the process. This would mean that Si Thep would eventually be added into the Unesco World Heritage tentative list. Inclusion into the tentative list typically happens at least a year before the country formally makes the nomination submission. Original article is in Thai.
via Bangkok Post, 06 Mar 2019: I think the editorial is overly critical of the Fine Arts Department in this case, and also is inaccurate in saying the site is under world heritage nomination as if the process is well underway. The site is definitely being considered for nomination by the government, but no submission to Unesco has been made.
The eager petroleum exploration company is Eco Orient Resources (Thailand) — a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s Eco Group. Eco Orient Resources applied for and received permits to search for petroleum in Si Thep district of Phetchabun in 2004. The firm now seeks to begin operations. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is due in April, and Eco Orient Resources is promising many measures that it says will mitigate noise and the ugliness of drilling rigs.
The site where this drilling is supposed to begin later this year is the northern part of the historical part. Khao Klang Nok is a colossal Buddhist monument. Archaeologists generally describe it as a temple, but by any standards it is huge. It dates from the Dvaravati period, or the 6th to the 11th century. The stupa of the temple is widely known and a destination for tourists, mostly Thais.
via Bangkok Post, 22 Feb 2019: Part of an ongoing dispute (see here, here and here) between the residents at Phimai and the Fine Arts Department over land ownership and rights.
The Ombudsman has stepped in to mediate a dispute between the Fine Arts Department and more than 1,600 locals in Phimai district who claim the department has declared 2,600 rai of their land an archaeological site.
The villagers insist they have legal rights to the land, which was included as part of the archaeological site that is home to one of the largest Khmer temples in the country.
They also said the department made the declaration without first listening to the opinions of affected locals.
By not doing so, the department is believed to be in violation of Section 58 of the constitution, a source said.
A meeting was held yesterday to try and resolve the dispute. It was led by the Office of the Ombudsman and attended by department deputy director-general Phanombut Chantharachot and affected residents.
via Bangkok Post, 22 Feb 2019 and other sources: A private collector from Thailand returns over 100 artifacts to the Fine Arts Department. It is not stated how the artifacts came to his possession.
Collector Thammarit Jira has donated 104 historical artifacts dating back as far as 4,300 years to the government for safekeeping as national treasures.
They were handed over at the Bangkok National Museum on Friday, where they were accepted by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
“These ancient objects are very precious and useful for the study of archaeological subjects and Thai history… This is a good example, and will encourage Thai people, including younger people, to love and protect our national treasures,” Gen Prayut said.
The prime minister said Mr Thammarit’s action should inspire other collectors to follow suit.
via Bangkok Post, 4 March 2019 with links to additional stories below. Over the last few days there has been an increasing outcry over the proposal by ECO Orient Resources to drill near the Khao Khlang Nok stupa, part of the Si Thep Historical Park in Petchabun Province. Last Friday, the Fine Arts Department released a statement denouncing the plans. ECO Orient Resources has not yet dropped the project, while the government is expected to start the process for World Heritage Nomination of the site later this week.
Visan Kositanont, chairman of Phetchabun’s Provincial Cultural Council told the hearing the exploration bid should be scrapped.
“Oil can be obtained elsewhere but ancient heritage items with high value are not easy to find,” he said.
Si Thep Historical Park is an ancient city that shows evidence of the Thawarawadi ancient civilisation.
“The site is a gem of the heritage of our nation and the whole area should be protected as there are ongoing archaeological excavations to find other ancient ruins under the ground,” he said.
via New Mandala, 28 Feb 2019: Following up on the previous news about proposed oil drilling near the Si Thep archaeological site in Thailand’s Petchabun province. The news is starting to gain some traction in Thai media, but I ask that you to help raise awareness about this ongoing development. Any kind drilling for oil will be destructive to an area that is definitely full of archaeological remains. #savesithep
Si Thep Historical Park was on track to become one of Thailand’s candidates for UNESCO heritage status. However, news broke on 25 February 2019 that shocked and angered the local community in Si Thep, as well as the academic community and those working within the heritage industry. ECO Orient Resources (Thailand) Ltd and ECO Orient Energy (Thailand) Ltd had organised a public hearing about plans to construct a drilling rig just 100 metres away from one of the historical park’s largest monuments, Khao Khlang Nok stupa. Khao Khlang Nok is Thailand’s largest stupa, a 64 by 64-metre stupa that stands 20 metres tall and dating back to at least the ninth century CE.
Si Thep Historical Park and its surrounding site deserves proper conservation and should be preserved for the future rather than traded for oil profits, which will benefit neither locals nor sustainable development in Phetchabun. Si Thep is potentially the largest ancient urban site in Thailand, its lifespan stretching back to the first to twelfth centuries CE. Si Thep Historical Park alone covers an area of 622.2 hectares. My study using old aerial photographs of the site revealed a complex system of hydraulic features and a third moat system that extends out beyond the area in Khao Khlang Nok, making the ‘city’ area approximately 1,544 hectares. A rough population estimate, base on water tanks, wells, site counts within the city, and material dispersal places the city’s population estimates at around 80,000 at conservative levels and 120,000 at a higher bound. Si Thep’s size and scale is then comparable with some of the more famous UNESCO Heritage Cities in Southeast Asia like Beikthano and Bagan in Myanmar.