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. 

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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. 

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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.

Reflections on “Cambodia’s Undiscovered Temples”

I had meant to blog this article on Angkor Borei and Cambodia’s southern temples from Conde Nast Traveler when it was published (a year ago!), but I was in the thick of finishing my dissertation and it got pushed to the back burner.  It’s worth a read, especially as there are so few travel pieces written about this part of Cambodia.  Be sure also to click through and check out the amazing photos by Kenro Izu that accompany the piece.

A photo of Phnom Da by Kenro Izu

A photo of Phnom Da by Kenro Izu

Of course, I have a few gripes. I’m one of probably a handful of people who have taken a particular interest in Angkor Borei and the Mekong Delta, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about this place.  Secondly, an archaeologist reading a travel piece like this is probably not unlike a doctor getting frustrated with the wild inaccuracies while watching House. Primarily it’s frustrating to me when writers (or anyone really) take historical documents as undisputed fact. So the author, Lawrence Osborne’s, statements that Angkor Borei was called Vyadhapurya and that “Funan, after all, was a maritime state controlling the seaborne trade between India and China,” are not correct.  Chinese emissaries visited a place called Funan believed to have been in the Mekong Delta, but the exact location was not clear. Scholars debated for years about where Funan was located before settling on Angkor Borei (and neighboring Oc Eo in Vietnam).  Furthermore, there is not any clear archaeological evidence that Funan controlled a large area. In my own research I argue that there was some control over trade, but this is actually quite difficult to discern and I’ve gotten challenged on it by my colleagues.  Excavations on peninsular Thailand have slightly different material culture, so it does not seem to have been clearly integrated into the Mekong Delta cultural sphere as historical documents suggest.

Osborne mentions the Lower Mekong Archaeological Project, but didn’t do any follow-up work to investigate what any of the findings from this research project were. He also implies that one of the Harihara sculpture from Ashram Maha Rosei was looted during recent conflicts, when it was in fact collected in the 1800s by the Etienne Aymonier.

In general, this article provides an atmospheric description of visiting some interesting and less-touristed temples, but the historical background is poorly researched. Perhaps this problem could have been remedied if the Angkor Borei museum was in better shape.  The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has constructed a beautiful new building to store the artifacts, but the interpretation is out of date and lacking.  Dr. Miriam Stark and I, along with our Cambodian MOCFA colleagues, have actually been working on updating the museum with all new wall panels and interpretive materials, exhibit cases, and facilities updates. Unfortunately, our most recent funding application was not successful**, but I hope in the next few years we’ll find the funding to give this museum the make-over it needs. And with this make-over, I hope that Angkor Borei and the Mekong Delta will become less “mysterious” and better known by both Cambodians and tourists.

If you want some basic background on Angkor Borei check out the LOMAP website and Dr. Miriam Stark’s webpage has links to many free PDFs of her articles on this site.

**Are you a rich benefactor and interested in helping fund this project, let me know!

 

 

 

Off the beaten path at Angkor: Chau Srei Vibol

Last year I had the opportunity to do a small excavation at the site of Chau Srei Vibol. Although the excavation wasn’t very productive, I enjoyed spending several days at this beautiful and quiet site that doesn’t see many tourists.

The ancient ruin of Chau Srei Vibol sits next to a modern wat.

The ancient ruin of Chau Srei Vibol sits next to a modern wat.

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Off the beaten path at Angkor: A walk along the wall around Angkor Thom

One of the major stops at the main tourist circuit at Angkor is at the South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom. However, most visitors might not realize that you can actually walk on top of the wall around Angkor Thom and get a different perspective on this ancient city.

Looking down on to the South Gate to Angkor Thom from the wall.

Looking down on to the South Gate to Angkor Thom from the wall.

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