After Incredible Finds, Angkor Archaeologists Wrap Up Dig

After 13 days of excavation that yielded artifacts beyond their dreams, archaeologists and researchers wrapped up work in Angkor Archaeological Park this week. After the excitement of their finds—which included a 1.9-meter statue of a guard and part of a Medicine Buddha—the team now have to get on with the job of assessing what they’ve found.

This will range from restoring statues to analyzing soil samples to determine which medicinal plants were grown at the site where a hospital stood 800 years ago, during the reign of King Jayavarman VII.

Sculputure fragments unearthed at the dig are photographed with a ruler that indicates their scale and orientation. (Natalie Khoo)

One big task will be to renovate the magnificent guard statue found on the second day of the dig on July 29. It would have once stood in the hospital grounds, which are located next to the northern entrance of Angkor Thom, the walled city of the king.

Weighing about 200 kg and missing its feet and part of its legs, the sandstone figure was an unexpected discovery.

“Normally we find pottery, shards of different sizes…tiles and some metal objects, but this is special, unusual that we find statues,” said Im Sokrithy, an archaeologist with the Apsara Authority, the government agency that manages Angkor Park in Siem Reap province and which conducted the excavation.

Their archaeological riches didn’t end there. The team came across traces of smelting, which might have been for bronze casting, said Mr. Sokrithy, who was the dig’s scientific supervisor. “We’re now working on it,” he said.

On Monday, the archaeologists unearthed their second major find. This time it was a Medicine Buddha, which they identified from an object similar to a small pyramid in the palm of his hand. Although hospital inscriptions from that era mention that a Medicine Buddha stood in the temple of every Jayavarman VII hospital compound, this is the first ever found.

“I had said we would hit gold if we found the statue of the Buddha. This is it, we hit gold,” said Dr. Rethy Chhem, an authority on Angkorian hospitals and medicine who served as adviser on the dig.

The statue confirms that Buddhist medicine, whose techniques included pulse taking, was practiced eight centuries ago in Cambodia, he said.

The excavation also yielded a large number of assorted fragments, said Khieu Chan, an archaeologist with the Apsara Authority and a site supervisor during the excavation. “So many porcelain, roof tiles, Khmer ceramics…and Chinese ceramics,” he said.

On Wednesday, researchers began completing their records of the site and filling in the excavation pits to protect it for future excavations and enable people to walk again in the area.

The excavation has shown that more research needs to be done on Jayavarman VII hospitals, Mr. Chan said. Dr. Chhem agreed, if only to try to find out who used the hospitals, he said.

Whether future digs will be lucky enough to come across similar incredible finds, however, remains to be seen.

During the excavation, the team was joined by 14 archaeology students from 10 countries that are members of the East Asia Summit, said Ea Darith, an archaeologist with the Apsara Authority’s Angkor International Center for Research and Documentation. Prior to working on the dig, the students visited the pre-Angkorian site of Sambor Prei Kuk in Kompong Thom province, which last month received Unesco World Heritage Status, and the Angkorian monument of Banteay Chhmar in Banteay Meanchey province, he said on Wednesday.

Funded by Singapore, the project has a long-term goal, said Singaporean archaeologist Lim Chen Sian. “These are the new generation of archaeologists, which will produce archaeology and scholarship [research

documents] for the next 30 years,” he said. “This project allows them to interact…to meet, so that in the future when they reach middle management and senior management, they will have this friendship and

bonding continuing throughout the decades.”

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