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Last year, independent researcher Kent Davis made the news with his theory that Angkor temples were a monument to women and to this end was hoping to analyse and quantify the traits of every apsara/devata image (over 1,700 in all). The Phnom Penh Post recently carried an update on Davis and his work and features, quite prominently, the discussion that on this website about Davis’ work (which you can read here).

What didn’t really come through in the PPP article was the paper on the facial pattern recognition study presented at the International Conference on Pattern Recognition in Istanbul, Turkey (it was buried somewhere in the middle of the article). The Cambodian Daily has a better-written paper on the article which you can read on Davis’ site, along with a download link to the facial recognition paper. The work is still very much in a preliminary stage, but quite promising and may potentially find correlations between types of faces with ethnicities or locations within the temple complex. It will be interesting to see what kinds of patterns emerge from a deeper analysis of the quantified attributes of the apsara/devata carvings emerge.

Sleuth researches enigmatic Angkor girls
Phnom Penh Post, 20 August 2010

The many faces of Angkor Wat
The Cambodian Daily, via www.devata.org, August 2010

Florida-based researcher, publisher and robot manufacturer Kent Davis is rapidly gaining an international reputation as the sleuth of Siem Reap, a new age detective delving into what he sees as one of the greatest mysteries of ancient Angkor Wat – the 1780 images of anonymous and mostly bare-breasted women depicted in carvings throughout the iconic structure.

Commonly known as apsaras (or, as Davis prefers, devatas), these female images were mostly accorded little significance.

But Davis, a former resident of Siem Reap and a regular visitor to Temple Town, is sure he’s onto something. He’s sure that these women represent something decidedly significant, but he’s not quite sure what.

Who are they, he asks, and why are there so many of them depicted throughout the great Khmer temple, not to mention other temples in the Angkorian complex?

Davis is now bristling with excitement because he has science on his side, and he’s certain that soon some answers will be revealed.

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One Reply to “Running facial recognition scans on the apsaras of Angkor Wat”

  1. Thank you for covering this story. I look forward to more lively dialogs with SEAArch readers. As you note above, once again the Phnom Penh Post has produced a “casual” article written to appeal to general readers.

    Reporter Michelle Vachon with the Cambodia Daily, however, produced a more in depth article examining the facial pattern recognition study and the implications to other experts. I received permission to reproduce the Cambodia Daily’s copyrighted article and it appears on Devata.org. There is also a link to download the Michigan State University abstract.

    While it’s fun to debate various theories about who the women portrayed in the Khmer monuments may represent, I do encourage readers to do their own research (i.e. news articles are almost certainly NOT 100% accurate. Ever.)

    As for myself I am investigating based on three simple premises:

    1. The quantity, diversity and complexity of Khmer female images clearly indicate (to me) that they represent an extraordinary resource of cultural, historical, anthropological and spiritual information about civilizations flourishing in 12th century Asia.

    2. This resource has all but been ignored during the past 150 years of Khmer studies.

    3. My goal is to study, interpret and respect the images while protecting and preserving them for future generations.

    Whether they are queens, yoginis, temple guardians, real or imaginary women, idealized angels of heaven, random faces based on girls the stone carvers saw at the market, wives of the king or ancient Khmer leaders is not clear at this point.

    Based on everything I’ve seen and learned over the past five years of research it would be quite risky for anyone to stubbornly support any one of those interpretations.

    What is clear is that they were extremely important to the civilization that created these temples.

    I am confident that there *are* very specific and surprising answers to this mystery. I hope some of the theories develop here on your site.

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