Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cambodia's Khmer heritage threatened by looting of archeological sites

A visitor at the temples of Angkor, which have been looted for their carvings and artworks. Photograph: David Longstreath/AP

Angkor temples among threatened Cambodian sites highlighted by the International Council of Museums

Tuesday 3 August 2010
Florence Evin
Guardian Weekly
(UK)

Bells, drums, bracelets, bronze statuettes; cornaline and agate beads; a Buddha's head, a lingam, a phallic symbol associated with the Hindu deity Shiva, lintels, fragments of chiselled bas-reliefs and engraved sandstone steles; female divinities, ritual objects, gilded wooden statues … and so the list goes on. In all, the first Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk published on the internet by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) details 46 categories of object.

Despite the measures taken by the Cambodian government to protect its 2,000-year-old Khmer heritage, the widespread looting and destruction of archaeological sites continues.

At present only the immediate vicinity (covering about 230 sq km) of the main Angkor temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon, Preah Khan and Ta-Prohm – which Unesco placed on its World Heritage list in 1992, is protected. Angkorian remains hidden in the forest extend over a much larger area.

Apart from Angkor, attempts to prevent looting have had little effect. "The prehistoric past of Cambodia remains largely unexplored and undocumented," ICOM explains on its site. "The looting of sites from all periods of Cambodia's past robs the world of the chance to understand the unique beginnings and continuous evolution of the Khmer civilisation."

Local people have no idea of the antiquities' value nor even the ban on trade. This explains why, in 2009, only two thefts – of sandstone statues of the Buddha – were reported to Interpol, which keeps track of stolen artefacts for its 188 members, including Cambodia.

Recent thefts have not achieved the same media impact as the spectacular raid on Banteay Chmar temple, east of Angkor, in 1999, when a 50-metre strip of bas-reliefs was cut out and trucked through the jungle to Thailand. Fortunately, the loot was intercepted in Thailand and returned to Cambodia. ICOM's first Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk targets collectors, museums, art dealers, customs and police, but also seeks to inform the general public and raise overall awareness.

Although neither of the two recognised trafficking hubs – Thailand and Switzerland – have ratified the Unesco convention on illicit trade in cultural goods, this development may well make them less attractive.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde
.

7 comments:

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偉曹琬 said...

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