Perhaps one of the most photographed parts of Angkor is the south gate to Angkor Thom, where you cross a moat flanked by gods and demons depicting the Churning of the Sea of Milk.
If you’ve been recently, you may have noticed the APSARA Stone Conservation unit working on some of these sculptures.
Also obvious is that some of the heads on the gods/demons are a different color stone than the bodies. These are new copies that have been made to replace versions now in storage at the Angkor Conservation warehouse.
Recently, I visited the Angkor Conservation office and I had the chance to see some of the artisans at work who are making these replica heads. The level of detail and craftsmanship involved is amazing.
One baby-faced sculptor said he’d been studying stone work for 10 years (since he was 18). Also interesting was that the artisans were duplicating the “original” damage to the sculptures-not creating perfect copies.
Some people can be a bit snarky about the use of replica sculptures at temples in Angkor park. Perhaps there could be better signage so tourists knew when they were looking at copies vs. originals. However, the level of skill required to make accurate and beautiful copies is high, and I think these artisans deserve credit for their hard work. These artisans are part of a long line of Cambodian stone sculptors and in many ways the replicas are excellent examples of the living heritage of Angkor. When you’re visiting Angkor park, be sure to stop and admire both the ancient and modern talent involved in your temple experience.