Faces from Angkor Wat still around today?

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The Independent’s story about Kent Davis’ ongoing work to analyse the apsara/devata features on Angkor Wat. Having determined at least 8 facial types from the apsaras/devatas from the walls of Angkor Wat, is it possible to see if these facial features still survive among the locals at Angkor?

AngkorWat carvings, Angkor, Cambodia (3)
photo credit: ScubaBeer


The 12th-century facebook of Angkor Wat

The Independent, 06 September 2010
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Running facial recognition scans on the apsaras of Angkor Wat

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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

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Angkor exists to glorify women?

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… at least, that’s what researcher Kent Davis wants you to believe. The Phnom Penh Post features his work in surveying and quantifying all the images of women (conventionally known as Apsaras, but he calls it Devatas) to determine if there’s something more to the images. His theory is that because of the thousands of Apsara images that adorn the walls of the temples, Angkor was built to glorify women. Does it sounds like a Da-vinci-code-sacred-feminine flavour transposed onto the Southeast Asian context to you? Me too. Of course, we should just ignore the architecture, the royal inscriptions and historical accounts that suggest that buildings of Angkor were temples to Khmer gods.

Apsaras.Bas-reliefs
photo credit: Gusjer

The mysterious women of Angkor
Phnom Penh Post, 12 February 2009
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Apsara head returns home

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09 August 2007 (CCTV International) – A follow-up from the return of the stolen apsara head reported last week, this story also has a video clip attached to it, although I haven’t been able to access it using firefox myself.

Cambodian artifact returns home

The U.S. government has returned a stolen sculpted head that belongs to Cambodia’s cultural heritage. The Angkor-era sculpture, is one of many artifacts that is stolen and smuggled out of the country every year.

The 2-kilogram artifact, is the sandstone head of an apsara, or a celestial dancer from the 12th century. It was smuggled out of Cambodia in violation of a 2003 bilateral agreement to protect Cambodia’s cultural heritage. The artifact was seized by U.S. law enforcement agents earlier this year.

Joseph A. Mussomeli, U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, said, “People talk a lot about the need for Khmer culture to be preserved but not enough is done so we’re very grateful and happy that our police and other law-enforcement agencies are focussed on this issue. We cannot really expect Cambodia to move ahead into the future if it doesn’t have enough understanding of its past

Read – and view – the story about the stolen apsara head.

For more books about the scultpure of Angkoran, look up:
Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand by V. Roveda
Temple Art Icons and Culture of India and South East Asia by K. V. Raman
Arts of Southeast Asia (World of Art) by F. Kerlogue
Art & Architecture of Cambodia (World of Art) by H. I. Jessup
Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art by E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford
Narrative Sculpture and Literary Traditions in South and Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology) by J. Fontein and M. J. Klokke (Eds)
Khmer Mythology: Secrets Of Angkor Wat by V. Roveda
Apsarases at Angkor Wat, in Indian context by K. M. Srivastava

Categories: Angkor Cambodia Sculpture

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Stolen apsara head returned to Cambodia

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30 July 2007 (The Associate Press, by way of the Gainsville Sun and featured on many other American newspapers) – A stolen Apsara (celestial nymph) head is recovered in the US and returned to Cambodia. Because of their weight, the heads of Cambodian sculptures are often taken in lieu of the entire sculpture. As in the case of many of these artefacts, the heads have often gone into the hands of private collectors and this head is unlikely to be matched to its original location. Check out the podcast featuring the interview with Dr. Dougald O’Reilly of Heritage Watch to find out more about the illicit trade in Cambodian artefacts.

U.S. Returns Stolen Artifact to Cambodia

The U.S. government returned to Cambodia the head of an Angkor-era sculpture that had been stolen and smuggled out of the Southeast Asian country.

The artifact, weighing about 4.4 pounds, is a sandstone head of a celestial dancer, or apsara, from the 12th century, the U.S. Embassy said Monday in a statement.

It said the object was smuggled out of Cambodia into the United States in violation of a 2003 agreement between the two countries that aims to protect Cambodia’s cultural heritage. The statement did not say when the item was stolen, and was not immediately known who held the sculpture in the United States.

Read more about the recovery of the stolen Apsara head.

Interested in reading up on Angkoran sculpture? Read up:
Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand by V. Roveda
Temple Art Icons and Culture of India and South East Asia by K. V. Raman
Arts of Southeast Asia (World of Art) by F. Kerlogue
Art & Architecture of Cambodia (World of Art) by H. I. Jessup
Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art by E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford
Narrative Sculpture and Literary Traditions in South and Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology) by J. Fontein and M. J. Klokke (Eds)
Khmer Mythology: Secrets Of Angkor Wat by V. Roveda
Apsarases at Angkor Wat, in Indian context by K. M. Srivastava

Categories: Angkor Cambodia Sculpture

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Apsara dancers of Angkor

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23 September 2006 (The Star)

The Star, 23 Sep 2006
Apsara dancers of Angkor

I was surrounded by apsara everywhere I turned. They were on walls and pillars, lintels and window frames. An apsara has been variously described as a female divinity, a heavenly dancer and a celestial nymph. An apsara is skilled in dance and music, and said to be irresistible to men. Although they were all carved in stone, I observed that each apsara showed slightly different characteristics, either in facial expression, pose or costume and adornments. I was fascinated by the headdresses and trinkets worn by the dancers and noticed that they had ears stretched by heavy earrings. Elongated ear lobes remind one of Lord Buddha. All the apsaras were presented bare-breasted and they were generously endowed. I think some visitors have not been able to resist rubbing and touching the sculptures because certain parts of the anatomy of a few of these sculptures have been rubbed almost black. Fortunately such vandalism and disrespectful behaviour is not widespread.


Related Books:
Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand by V. Roveda
Narrative Sculpture and Literary Traditions in South and Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology) by J. Fontein and M. J. Klokke (Eds)
Apsarases at Angkor Wat, in Indian context by K. M. Srivastava