Recent Excavations in Northwest Cambodia

By O'reilly, Dougald J. W.; Sytha, Pheng | Antiquity, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Recent Excavations in Northwest Cambodia


O'reilly, Dougald J. W., Sytha, Pheng, Antiquity


Prehistoric archaeology in Cambodia is in its infancy and our understanding of the rise of the powerful civilisation of Angkor is deficient. There have been strides made in this field of research (Higham & Thosarat 2000; Higham 1998; O'Reilly 1998; 1999); but as yet, little has been done in close proximity to Angkor itself.

It is the aim of the Origins of Angkor Archaeological Project (OAAP) to explore the roots of the ancient Khmer Empire that was established c. AD 802 in the Kulen Mountains of Cambodia. The sphere of Khmer influence in Southeast Asia has varied over the centuries and Northeast Thailand has certainly fallen within that sphere. For this reason OAAP has investigated a number of prehistoric sites in the Mun River Valley of Northeast Thailand. The purpose of these investigations has been to gain insight into prehistoric cultures `on the eve of the transition to the state' (Higham & Thosarat 2000).

The Origins of Angkor Project expanded its activities to include research in Cambodia in 2001. The recent construction of a road in Northwestern Cambodia led to the discovery of an Iron Age cemetery at Phum Snay, Banteay Meanchey Province. In the quest to understand the rise of the state, the site may be one of the most important yet discovered in Cambodia. Unfortunately, it is threatened by looters which has resulted in the loss of a major portion of the site. The unprovenanced artefacts seem to indicate a militarized society, as iron swords and spearheads have been found in abundance and there are unconfirmed reports of individuals being buried with helmets and breast-plates.

In February 2001, an area of 5x15 m was excavated in conjunction with the Royal University of Fine Arts/Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Cambodia and funded by the Japan Fund in Trust/ UNESCO and the Marsden Fund. The excavation revealed nine prehistoric burials and over 300 artefacts including, ceramic vessels, glass beads, grinding stones, carnelian beads, bronze bangles, and iron tools and weapons. Evidence of body armour was fugitive in the excavated area but one individual was interred with a cache of iron points and an iron sword. This young adult male was also buried with green glass earrings, bronze rings, glass beads and a large tiger canine around the neck (FIGURES 1 & 2). …

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