Archeology Uncovered: Help Preserve Cambodia’s Treasures

One restaurant that we at have discovered in Phnom Penh, called Romdeng, helps to support the community through training locals to produce and serve food which in turn, generates revenue for the workers and the community.  The only catch – is that to support this restaurant as a tourist, you might have to try one of its specialities: Fried Tarantulas.  Read more about it here: Chowing Down on Tarantulas for a Good Cause in Cambodia.

Support Heritage Friendly Tourism

A Temple entrance in AngkorPeople LOVE Cambodia! Those who visit are inevitably drawn back to this country and its warm people, varied scenery and of course, its unparalleled cultural heritage. Cambodia is home to thousands of archaeological sites, some dating back to the 6th century AD.

Cambodia is now attracting international attention, not only from tourists but also from scholars who are interested in understanding the rise (and fall) of the state of Angkor that was founded on the shores of the great lake in AD 802.

Evidence of the most ancient people is beginning to come to the fore as archaeologists work to understand the earliest occupation sites. The venerable Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (known in English as the much less romantic sounding in ‘French School of the Far East’) has been working on two important prehistoric sites.

One site, discovered beneath the waters of the huge man-made lake or baray at Angkor, has rendered the remains of a Bronze Age settlement. This is, to date, the earliest evidence for occupation on the Angkor Plain. The ancient mound was probably leveled when the huge reservoir was constructed in the 11th century AD and lost until an observant French archaeologist noticed a slightly raised area during a particularly dry period when the water in the reservoir was low.

Sites dating to the Iron Age (c. 500 B.C. onwards) are also being uncovered, one being found beneath the temple of Prei Khmeng and others located closer to the Thai border where cemeteries and occupation remains have been found.

ArtifactRegrettably archaeologists are not the only people interested in these ancient sites and demand by collectors and tourists for the stone and glass beads has led to the wholesale destruction of many archaeological sites. Looters who supply this market take no care in removing the material, carelessly throwing the human remains aside and breaking ancient pots and corroded jewellery. Once removed from the ground these items become worthless, even to science, as their location and depth is of the utmost importance to the archaeologist.

In early 2000 a sleepy village in north west Cambodia, hundreds of skeletons were uncovered by locals building a road. Villagers discovered rich burials the discovery of which sparked an episode of looting which led to the complete destruction of the site. This trend has only grown as other villagers search for buried treasure across Cambodia.

In the quest to understand the rise of the state these early sites are of great importance. The material found during illicit excavation includes bronze and iron spearheads, swords, bangles, bells, earrings, finger and toe rings, projectile points, spindle whorls, glass, carnelian and agate beads and complete pots. Some of the dead are reported to have been wearing bronze helmets and many are buried with heavy weapons and arrow caches. The proliferation of military paraphernalia at a site so close to the later Angkorian capital is of great interest to archaeologists who are struggling to understand the motivation for state formation.

The Eradication of Destruction

While the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has made valiant efforts to discourage looting it is a difficult task. Gaping holes spot the landscape with piles of human bone and broken pottery, discarded as valueless, in the spoil heaps. The looters sell their wares to middlemen who then sell them further a field. Crushing poverty is the motivation for the villagers to loot the site but only greed motivates the buyers.

To assist the Cambodian Government, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) called HeritageWatch, has dedicated itself to protecting and preserving the country’s magnificent history.

HeritageWatch Works to Protect and Preserve Cambodia’s History

The NGO’s Cambodian employees have been active in trying to save their country’s heritage by organizing grass roots workshops to convince people of the value and importance of preserving the ancient sites beneath their feet.

Preah KhanA telephone hotline has been set up to field calls generated by people reporting looting or other destruction. Many people have become aware of the hotline through the radio and television ads produced by HeritageWatch. This year, an anonymous caller reported that armed men using metal detectors were scouring the ancient temple site of Preah Khan in a remote part of Preah Vihear. A HeritageWatch team was dispatched an indeed the evidence of recent looting was apparent with fresh holes near the ancient temple.

Regrettably, looting is nothing new in Preah Khan. This magnificent Angkorian temple bears the scars caused by greed and a total disrespect for Cambodia and its glorious past, as massive chunks of sandstone some over 2 meters tall have been literally smashed out using sledgehammers. During an assessment visit members of the HeritageWatch team measured and photographed the scars, sending the data to the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security so that if the material was sent to the USA it may be identified and intercepted.

Action Needs to be Taken Now!

Poverty is the prime motivation for looting and HeritageWatch has proposed a project that will seek to establish sustainable income for communities living near heritage resources. The pilot project is set to be launched at Koh Ker a temple group established northeast of Angkor in the 10th century.

Working with the APSARA Authority, HeritageWatch will provide training for the local population in small business management, tourism relations and heritage and environmental protection. Ox cart tours for visitors will provide income for the villagers.

How Tourism can Help

A sign posted on a tree asking people not to loot or buy artifacts While these activities address the supply end of the antiquities trade the organization is also trying to inform those on the demand end. HeritageWatch surveys indicate that many visitors to Cambodia are unaware that looting is a problem or do not know that buying antiquities is illegal and punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.

Tourists may also be unaware that many businesses in Cambodia are very supportive of Cambodian culture and heritage and want to see the country develop economically.

In an effort to inform visitors to Cambodia of responsible tourism practices, the awareness of Cambodia’s magnificent heritage and the contributions that many local and foreign businesses make to the country, HeritageWatch has launched the Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign.

The Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign

With the co-operation and support of the Ministry of Tourism, Heritage Watch has launched an exciting and dynamic campaign. This will enable HeritageWatch to continue its work to preserve and protect Cambodia’s history, through:

  • creating greater public awareness about Cambodia’s heritage through tourism
  • bringing together the private, public and non-governmental sectors in a nation-wide campaign to preserve cultural heritage
  • engaging the academic community with the general public in an open forum on research and development in Cambodia
  • education and promoting responsible tourism through the people who are in direct contact with tourists such as tour guides, travel agents, hotels, etc. and;
  • promoting sustainable development through tourism

In conjunction with the campaign aims to educate and inform, an important magazine called Tourism Insight has been launched. The magazine features a variety of topics showcasing developments on Cambodia’s heritage news and activities, event listings, information on other NGO activities in the fields of arts and culture and other life stories and quirky and interesting pieces on surviving and thriving in Cambodia.

The campaign has been made possible through the generous support of Petronas, Bangkok & Siem Reap Airways, ANZ and DHL.

Heritage Friendly Businesses

Select businesses in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have been chosen after establishing that they met a set of criteria in contributing to Cambodian culture/arts, heritage or development projects.

These exclusive businesses have become members of the Heritage Friendly Business Association and are authorized to display the Heritage Friendly logo. Help HeritageWatch to support them and visit a Heritage Friendly Business today.

Look for the logo or simply log onto to find who and where they are today.

Today's Top Articles:

Scroll to Top