Photo: Wall detail, Banteay Chhmar.

Watching out for the future of Cambodia's past

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Dougald O’Reilly is an archaeologist and the founder and director of Heritage Watch, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of Southeast Asia’s cultural heritage. We chatted with Dougald by e-mail in a conversation that traversed looting, antiquities trafficking, Cambodia’s struggle to preserve its history and, well, he did mention Tomb Raider once.





What is Heritage Watch’s raison d’etre? Heritage Watch was founded in 2003 due to the alarming rate of heritage destruction in Cambodia. This seems to have been initiated by the illegal excavation of a site called Phum Snay. The finds at Snay led others around Cambodia to look for ancient burials and a massive trade in carnelian and agate and other artefacts grew. The organisation is dedicated to slowing the trade in antiquities and the looting of archaeological sites in Cambodia, both temple sites and archaeological sites older than the Angkor Civilization.

Priceless. Photo taken in or around Watching out for the future of Cambodia's past, Angkor, Cambodia by Matt French.

Priceless. Photo: Matt French

How does looting take place today in Cambodia? It’s not just above-the-ground, is it? Looting is still prevalent in Cambodia, even though the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MoCFA) has made good efforts to stop it. There are so many sites and not enough resources to stop impoverished locals digging ancient sites. In fact, most of the looting is sub-surface although temple sites are still targeted.

What is the most brazen looting occurrence you’re aware of? Perhaps the most brazen incidence of looting occurred at Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey Province when in the mid-1990s a huge section of wall was stolen. Several metres of the wall, part of the outer enclosure of the Jayavarman VII temple, depicted a multi-armed Avalokisvara. Fortunately the truck carrying the wall was stopped at the Thai border before it left Cambodia and now rests in the National Museum in ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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Popular attractions in Angkor

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