via ArtReview, 30 October 2023: For over 50 years, U.S. museums have displayed Thailand’s holy bronze men, 7th- and 8th-century bodhisattvas discovered in a 10th-century temple. These artifacts were taken out of Thailand without official documentation and are now the subject of a robust legal case for their return, led by Thai authorities and activists. The article questions the ethics of such collections and calls for a transparent repatriation process.
Let’s back up: the Prakhon Chai hoard was stolen, not ‘spirited away’… While the facts surrounding its discovery, including exact numbers (reports range from a few dozen to 300), are clouded by decades of conflicting accounts and conjecture, this much is clear: the archaeological find was not officially documented, and the site – Buriram province’s Prasat Hin Khao Plai Bat II, a tenth-century temple atop an extinct volcano – was looted by local villagers. The Thai government is also firm in its conviction that most sculptures left Thailand illegally, without the required export permits. This is a claim backed up the US Homeland Security Investigations team now subpoenaing and pressuring US museums on Thailand’s behalf.