That is not a stegosaurus

Curmudgeon month continues here as I take another myth about Angkor to task. This time it’s the silly “Stegosaurus at Ta Prohm” rumor.  This myth has been popularized by young earth creationists*, who’ve argued that one particular small carving on a doorway at Ta Prohm depicts a Stegosaurus.  Never mind that the entire temple is covered with carvings of fantastic and mythical creatures, this one carving is evidence that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

Carving on Ta Prohm.  This is not a stegosaurus.

Carving on Ta Prohm. This is not a stegosaurus.

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Stop saying the French discovered Angkor

I suppose I’m a bit of a curmudgeon and therefore get fairly easily annoyed. One of my biggest pet peeves is the old myth about how the French, specifically the explorer and researcher Henri Mouhot, “discovered Angkor” in 1860. This myth is based on an idea that the  Cambodians had no knowledge of their past, and therefore helped the French justify their colonial rule in “restoring a nation to its past grandeur” (Dagens 1995:47).  As Angkor has been in the news lately, due to the recent BBC documentary, this factual inaccuracy continues to be perpetuated.  It’s time for this myth to die.

A drawing of Angkor Wat by Henri Mouhot.

A drawing of Angkor Wat by Henri Mouhot, who did not discover Angkor.

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Day of Archaeology post on Ta Prohm

Time flies.  Back in July I wrote a post for “Day of Archaeology” about our fieldwork at Ta Prohm.  You can read that and see photos here.

The logo for our GAP field season t-shirt, showing an image of Prajnaparamita and noting the original name of Ta Prohm.

The logo for our GAP field season t-shirt, showing an image of Prajnaparamita and noting the original name of Ta Prohm (Rajavihara). Design by Pipad Krajaejun.


DIG Magazine issue on Angkor Wat

ImageThis is a brief post to advertise the latest issue (March 2014) of DIG Magazine, an archaeology magazine for kids 9-14 on Angkor Wat. I was a consulting editor and got several friends and colleagues to contribute articles to this issue. Stories include:

- A walking tour of Angkor Wat by Alison Carter

-The bronze and stone sculpture workshops by Martin Polkinghorne

-The bas reliefs at Angkor Wat by Alison Carter and Piphal Heng

-LIDAR at Angkor Wat by Damian Evans

-Was it ever a fort? by David Brotherson

-Conservation and preservation of Angkor Wat by Im Sokrithy

The issue is available in well-stocked bookstores. However, an easier option may be to download the Kindle version via Amazon.

More on refugees at Angkor Wat

One of the most popular recent posts on this blog was “The people who lived at Angkor Wat,” and people seemed especially struck by the image of refugees at Angkor Wat in 1970. I had asked if anyone knew more about refugees staying at Angkor Wat during the war and I was glad to hear from a reader, Teddy, who told me about “Facing the Khmer Rouge: A Cambodian Journey” by Ronnie Yimsut. 



In this memoir of the Khmer Rouge period, Ronnie Yimsut describes being told to go to Angkor Wat by Vietcong soldiers, who said there would be food and safety if his family sheltered there.  Ronnie recounts that the Vietcong were sending many families to Angkor Wat, and when they arrived the road into the temple was crowded, so they crossed the moat. 

It was sunset when Norane carried me into the outer walls of the Angkor Wat. We were both exhausted. We were hungry, but there was no sign of the promised stockpiles of food. The Khmer Rouge had tricked us. Oh, how I hated them. Would we ever get to go home? Where was home anyway? We couldn’t stay in our bullet-riddled house. 


The communist guerrillas were very efficient and effective con men. They had massed us into the temple ruins to serve as human shields (p. 34).

Ronnie Yimsut describes spending 7 weeks starving in the Angkor Wat temple before he and his family left for the nearby village of Domdek. 

Angkor Wat may have been an important place of refuge for people at many points during the past. A colleague of mine, David Brotherson, wrote his honor’s thesis on the possible re-use of Angkor Wat as a fortification during the post-Angkorian period.

I’m interested in hearing from more people with any thoughts on this topic or other memoirs that might cover Angkor and the Khmer Rouge period. Leave a comment below or feel free to contact me.


Burying the dead at Angkor

In February 2013 I was lucky enough to be in Phnom Penh for the amazing state funeral of the former King Norodom Sihanouk. I heard many people wonder what state funerals may have been like in the Angkorian period and where all the dead Angkorians were buried.  Unfortunately for archaeologists, it was not part of the Angkorian culture to bury the dead with many grave goods or  build funeral architecture, like the pyramids of Egypt or lavish tombs of the Mayan elites. For this reason, we know little about the mortuary activities of the Angkorian Khmers. However, one Angkorian cemetery has been excavated. Read more after the jump.

Cremation tower for King Norodom Sihanouk

Cremation tower for King Norodom Sihanouk

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The people who lived in Angkor Wat

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and a little bit of writing about the people who lived within the Angkor Wat enclosure, largely due to the fieldwork I participated in this summer. In the process of researching this topic I’ve found out a few interesting examples of people living in and around Angkor Wat I wanted to share.

Many people may not know that when the French first began to do research and conservation at Angkor Wat that there were Buddhist monks living very close to the main temple entrance.  There are actually two Buddhist Wats within the Angkor Wat enclosure, called Wat Cheung វត្តជើង (northern wat) and Wat Tbong  វត្តត្បង (southern wat).  The northern wat is near the venders close to the main causeway to the temple, and the southern wat is near the bathrooms.  This postcard I picked up in Siem Reap shows some monk’s houses in front of the main western entrance to the Angkor Wat temple.

Monk's houses in front of Angkor Wat from a 1909 publication by Dieulefils.

Monk’s houses in front of Angkor Wat from a 1909 publication by Dieulefils.

In a recent and fascinating article by Michael Falser,* he describes how French archaeologists/conservators undertook a “resettlement” of these monks because “they supposedly blocked the ‘vue générale’ from the entry gate…” (Falser 2013: 92). As Falser describes, the presence of monks and the use of Angkor Wat as living place of spiritual importance was not inline with the French view of the time as the Angkor region as a park.

As far as I can tell, this vision of Angkor Wat remained the same until the 1970s when the civil war drove many refugees into the Angkor Wat temple to take shelter from the fighting.  In the (also fascinating) book A Century in Asia there is a photo of some of these refugees dated to August 1970.

Refugees in Angkor Wat from "A Century in Asia" published by the EFEO.

Refugees in Angkor Wat from “A Century in Asia” published by the EFEO.

Of course, having people live close to heritage sights can create many tricky issues. The Cambodia Daily has recently posted a story about the problems surrounding new construction within the Angkor Park area.

As part of the Greater Angkor Project and my own ongoing research, we hope to better understand the original inhabitants who were living inside the Angkor Wat enclosure. These two examples provide a small glimpse of how more recent populations have used this space.  I’d be interested in learning more about both examples, if you have any information please contact me!

*Falser, Michael
2013 From Colonial Map to Visitor’s Parcours: Tourist Guides and the Spatiotemporal Making of the Archaeological Park of Angkor. In ‘Archaeologizing’ Heritage?: Transcultural Enganglements Between Local Social Practices and Global Virtual Realities , edited by Michael Falser and Monica Juneja. pp 81-106. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.