#savesithep What’s the big deal about Si Thep anyway?

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Si Thep Historical Park. Stock photos from Shutterstock / SOMSAK 2503
Si Thep Historical Park. Stock photos from Shutterstock / SOMSAK 2503
Si Thep Historical Park. Stock photos from Shutterstock / SOMSAK 2503

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.

Source: Ancient Thailand, under threat | Bangkok Post: travel

See also:

[Book] Khmer Temples in Eastern Thailand

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Readers may be interested in Asger Mollerup’s new book on Khmer sites in Northeast Thailand.

This book is the 2nd of three about Ancient Khmer sites outside the present day Cambodia and the first comprehensive inventory of ancient Khmer sites in eastern Thailand since the now more than one century-old works of Étienne Aymonier, Étienne Lunet de Lajonquière, and Major Erik Seidenfaden, describing some 170 Khmer sites in the provinces of Khorat and Buriram in the first two parts of the book.
Part 3 presents the ancient overland route from Angkor to Phimai marked by seventeen fire-shelters (‘dharmasala’), mentioned in a 12th century inscription. Also fire-shrines and fire-offerings are described.

Source: Khmer Temples in Eastern Thailand

Categories: Angkor Books Thailand


BBC Sounds – Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire

Bas relief sculpture, elephant charging into battle and the battle between the Cham and Khmer. The battles conducted by Jayavarman VII against the invading Cham. Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, Seam Reap. Source: Jak149 / Shutterstock

via BBC Sounds, 28 October 2018: A BBC audio program about Angkor and the Khmer civilisation featuring a number of prominent scholars. I am a little bothered by the fact that there aren’t any Cambodians in the panel though – it seems silly to have a discussion about Khmer culture and civilisation without any Khmers involved.

Around the twelfth and thirteenth century CE Angkor was thought to be one of the world’s biggest cities. Its massive temple complex at Angkor Wat covered hundreds of acres adorned with majestic towers, terraces and waterways: symbols of the might of the Khmer kings who ruled the region. Angkor Wat attracts millions of tourists every year and has pride of place on the Cambodian national flag but there’s much more to Angkor and the Khmer civilisation than its temples.

Bridget Kendall talks about Khmer history with David Chandler, Emeritus Professor of history at Monash University in Melbourne; architectural historian Dr. Swati Chemburkar from the Jnanapravaha Arts Centre in Mumbai; anthropologist Dr. Kyle Latinis from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and former Dean of the University of Cambodia; and art historian Dr. Peter Sharrock from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Source: BBC Sounds – The Forum – Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire

Categories: Angkor Cambodia Podcasts


Mission to translate old Khmer scripture complete

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Bangkok Post, 11 June 2017: A Thai kings gift of a Buddhist scripture to the Vatican is finally translated. The scripture, written in Old Khmer, will be displayed in the Vatican museums.

A mission to translate what is thought to be a two-century old scripture from Khmer to Italian, a gift to Pope Puis XI from the late King Rama VII during his trip to Italy, has been completed and is ready to be displayed at the Vatican museum, according to Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimonmangkhalaram.

Source: Mission to translate old Khmer scripture complete | Bangkok Post: news

Khmer jewelry returns to Cambodia, twice, last month

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In two separate events Angkorian jewelry was returned to Cambodia late last month. The first set was from a planned sale at a UK-based auction house which was listed lost November; the second was volunteered by a Hungarian art collector who said he had bought the pieces but “didn’t provide details on how they were acquired”.

Source: Collection of ‘Priceless’ Artifacts Given to National Museum – The Cambodia Daily (25 April 2017)


Ancient Angkorian Jewelry Set Recovered From UK Art Dealership – VOA Khmer (26 April 2017)

Ancient jewellery to return: ministry – Phnom Penh Post (24 April 2017)

Categories: Cambodia


Khmer ruins emerge from pond in hot season

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

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

Categories: Angkor Thailand


Prof. Ashley Thompson Inaugural Lecture – Double Realities: The Complex Lives of Ancient Khmer Statuary

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Readers in London may be interested in Ashley Thompson’s lecture in early May. Booking required.

Prof. Ashley Thompson Inaugural Lecture – Double Realities: The Complex Lives of Ancient Khmer Statuary
Date: 5 May 2016
Venue: Brunei Gallery
Time: 6.30 pm

The Angkorian empire produced one of the most remarkable sculptural traditions in human history. Starting from Hindu and, to a lesser extent, Buddhist models, Khmer artists invented bold new techniques and sophisticated aesthetic principles that underpinned their exploration of anthropomorphic statuary. And yet the representational presuppositions of Western aesthetics only cloud our understanding of this innovation: perhaps art, in this context, does not stand in a mimetic relationship to the world, but rather itself constitutes an ‘original’, an embodied and multivalent reality that calls for a different relationship with its ‘viewer’.

This lecture will begin with a reflection on the Khmer ‘portrait statue’, considered in the traditional art history of ancient Cambodia to have been a late and peculiar invention of the reign of the last of the great Angkorian kings. However I will challenge this view, and indeed take the double ontology of these sculptures – embodying at once gods and people – to in fact constitute the baseline reality of essentially all Angkorian and post-Angkorian statuary.

Nothing is as it seems: even Angkor itself, this exemplary outlier of the Sanskrit ‘cosmopolis’ that flowered in the late first and early second millennia CE, is construed both as a fiercely singular local dominion and a universal kingdom. Microcosm and macrocosm are each set off against and magnified in the other. Within this context, a number of otherwise incongruous phenomena can be understood as manifestations of an underlying bifid structure: from the fluid ambiguity in the gendering of certain anthropomorphic representations to the determination with which religious practitioners, then as now, experience their own lives as participating in a larger cosmic life variously conveyed by art.

More details and booking information here.

Public lecture: The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Empire

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Readers in Los Angeles might be interested in the colloquium by Dr Chen Chenratana on the rise and fall of Angkor.


The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Empire during the Angkor period, 9th to 15th century A.D.
Colloquium with Dr. CHEN Chanratana, University of Cambodia
Date: February 16, 2016
Time: 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Venue: 10383 Bunche Hall, UCLA Campus, Los Angeles, CA

Archaeological research in Cambodia began in the late 19th century following the rediscovery of the lost jungle capital of the Khmer Empire by French explorers. The artistic and architectural magnificence of the Khmer civilization immediately attracted the greatest scholars of France and Europe. American and Asian scholars later joined the mission to better understand this brilliant culture. People from around the world participated in grand efforts to map, excavate and restore ancient structures and countless studies, articles and books were published about the Khmer.

Tragically, war in Southeast Asia during the 1970s stopped academic progress for nearly 25 years. Cambodia did not begin to recover until the early 1990s when the present government restored order in the nation. In 1994, Angkor Wat was registered as a World Heritage site attracting many international heritage groups to Cambodia and the Angkor region. Working with local experts from Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the APSARA Authority these organizations are once again continuing the mission to restore and preserve the legacy of Khmer temples and heritage.

The presentation will focus on the Rise and the Fall of the Khmer Empire during the Angkor period, from the 9th to 15th centuries A.D., drawing on the most recent research findings from local and international institutions.

More details here.

Talk: Death-rebirth as represented in Khmer religious iconography

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Readers in London may be interested in this talk by Prof Ang Choulean at SOAS.

Death-rebirth as represented in Khmer religious iconography
Professor Ang Choulean (Anthropologist)
Date: 29 September 2015
Time: 5:15 PM

For many cultures, it is commonplace to talk about death and rebirth as intimately linked one to he other, even as infinite cycles in Indian or Indianized cultures.

My aim here is to demonstrate how in Khmer contexts death-rebirth is iconographically symbolized by a demon called Reahu who is believed to cause eclipses. This demon is represented in various forms, especially in funerals. But it also appears that Reahu is quite often sculpted on monuments of ancient Cambodia, which may help us to better understand the meaning of the latter.

Details here.

Phu Phra Bat Historical Park to be nominated for world heritage

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U-sa's Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

Phu Phra Bat Historical Park in Udon Thani Province Thailand is to be nominated at Thailand’s next World Heritage site. This ridge in northeast Thailand is reminiscent of Cambodia’s Phnom Kulen, and contains a long history of human occupation from prehistoric rock paintings, to remains of Dvaravati, Lopburi/Khmer and recently Lan Xang cultures. It is a beautiful landscape and I was really fortunate to have investigated some of the sites there as part of my PhD research.

U-sa's Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

U-sa’s Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

Phu Phra Bat Park nominated for Unesco Heritage Site list
The Nation, 27 January 2015

Phu Phra Bat Park chosen for Unesco Heritage list
The Nation, 28 January 2015

The Culture Ministry has decided to nominate Udon Thani’s Phu Phra Bat Park as a Unesco World Heritage Site and will put the plan up for consideration at Parliament tomorrow.

Situated in Ban Phue district, the park features ruins and objects dating back to pre-historic times as well as to the Dvaravati, Lopburi, and Lan Xang periods.

The 1,200-acre site is located in the lush Phu Phra Bat Buabok Forest Park, where there are many peculiarly shaped rocks owing to slow-moving glaciers millions of years ago. Also, many of the ruins and objects – such as a rock shaped to look like a stupa and another chiselled to the shape of a foot – were not made entirely by hand.

Visitors can also admire the pre-historic paintings, sandstone images and idols. The Fine Arts Department declared the site a historical park in 1991.

Full story here and here.