Things have been busy as I’ve been preparing to head back to Cambodia in just over a week. Before I go, I thought I’d share a few interesting links:
– The NY Times has an interesting story about the growth of higher education and its tie to the tourist industry in Siem Reap. Siem Reap seems to be growing and growing and every time I return (even after only a few months) there are new parts of the city that weren’t there before. It’s a good to keep in mind that many people you encounter as a tourist are working extremely hard (for themselves or a family member) for an opportunity at an education. However, my friends who study this kind of thing express some doubts about the quality of education people are receiving. But that is a whole ‘nother topic.
-UNESCO has an short little video on Ban Chiang, one of the most famous and important prehistoric sites in all of Southeast Asia. Plus bonus footage of salt production!
-An article on the damaged sites at Ayutthaya from the Bangkok Post. Thai archaeological sites often leave portions of the burial pit open with objects and burials in situ. It’s believed this makes the site more interesting for tourists, but I’ve heard many archaeologists question it’s utility, as exposing these objects to the elements does not help their preservation. One of the first photos from this article (below- before on the left, after on the right) highlights this point.
-I mentioned the amazing Cardamom Jar Burials in an earlier post. Here are some really lovely photos of this site.
-Banteay Chhmar has been in the news lately. A story here and another one here discuss plans for restoration of the temple and increased tourism.
-A very cool Angkorian period inscribed silver plate has recently been returned. Makes me wonder how many other pieces like this one are in private collections around the world.
-Speaking of artifacts with dubious provenance, this article in the Guardian on Chinese “tomb-raiders” was disheartening to me. Looting on this scale is highly organized
Officials say tomb thefts have become increasingly professionalised. Gangs from the provinces worst hit – Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan, which all have a particularly rich archaeological heritage – have begun exporting their expertise to other regions. One researcher estimated that 100,000 people were involved in the trade nationally.
Wei Yongshun, a senior investigator, told China Daily in 2011 that crime bosses often hired experienced teams of tomb thieves and sold the plunder on to middlemen as quickly as they could.
I honestly don’t know much about looting operations in Cambodia, but anecdotal stories I’ve heard suggest that there is some kind of organization behind looting there too. It’s not all opportunistic looting by poor farmers.
-Lastly, back to the NY Times where they ask the question “What does UNESCO recognition mean exactly?” In Cambodia, it means a lot of potential tourist dollars. World Heritage recognition re-started the border skirmish between Cambodia and Thailand and Cambodia has numerous sites it would like to nominate and encourage tourists to visit. However, as this article notes, mass tourism to sites can be overwhelming and harmful to people who aren’t prepared for it. There is also an interesting discussion on the listing of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In Cambodia, this list currently includes the Royal Ballet and Shadow Theater, although you might remember some tension between Cambodia and Thailand (again) about the registration of a hand gesture.
The next posts should be from the field in Cambodia. As always, thanks for reading!
Good post, Alison. Best of luck in your upcoming fieldwork, and to all on the project. There have been other articles appearing recently conserning the level of organization behind looting gangs in China (i.e. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-09/07/content_13635838.htm). Yes, I’m firmly of the opinion that looting is at its most “organized” in Cambodia compared to elsewhere in SE Asia (i.e. Viet Nam where I’ve examined the issue the most), and that with dealers such as BC Galleries still existing, plenty of artifacts with very few or no known examples from excavated contexts are sitting on coffee tables as we speak. Constant vigilance and constant exposure…
Your mention of the inscription jogged my memory: In Bangkok I once visited the house of a wealthy businessman who collects antiquities. His love for them is genuine. One piece was a bronze jar or pitcher inscribed with the name of Jayavarman VII or VIII (I can never keep my Jayavarmans straight). Presumably it was once an important ceremonial object.
Thanks Philip, I’m not surprised to hear it. There was an interesting article in the NY Times about collectors and the hard time they are having selling and gifting their artifacts, which is quite interesting: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/arts/design/antiquity-market-grapples-with-stricter-guidelines-for-gifts.html?_r=1