Inscription experts at the National Museum are researching and translating the words on an engraved stone that was recently discovered in Preah Vihear province, while Stung Treng provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts’s officials found fragments of the ruined Phu Chong temple – also known as Bachong Temple – that has been buried in the Mekong River for centuries.
Chea Socheat, chief of the Conservation Office of the Department of Museums at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told The Post that the stone – which is more than 1,000 years old – was found by residents of Preah Khlaing commune’s Kraing Dong village of Preah Vihear province’s Tbeng Meanchey district on March 28. It was brought to the National Museum on April 5.
He added that officials were currently cleaning it with disinfectant to strengthen the stone and prevent it from decaying.
“According to a brief interpretation by professor Hun Chhunteng – a Khmer linguistic expert at the Royal University of Phnom Penh – the inscription is in Sanskrit and ancient Khmer, and is dated 953 AD. It commemorates the merits of the former Khmer emperors of the Chenla period, including King Indravarman, Mahindravarman, Isanvarman and many other kings,” he said.
According to Socheat, a team of linguists is currently reviewing the words and content of the inscription in order to compile a chronological document which they hope will aid the study and understanding of the civilisation and history of Cambodia, both in the past and through its connection to the present.
He said the artefact was found not far from an ancient hill – known to locals as “Tuol Teuk Sar” – which is located near Preah Lean Temple, built during the 10th century before the Angkorian period. Because of this, the ministry urged experts from the General Department of Heritage to cooperate with the Ministry of Environment to conduct a study and identify the precise location where it was found. It was hoped that the location of the prehistoric discovery could be excavated and studied.
Seng Sot, deputy head of the environment ministry’s General Department of Local Communities, led a team made up of officials from the heritage department and the culture ministry to retreive the stone.
Sot told The Post in March that his department received a report from a farming couple – indentified as Set Toeng and It Reung, of Kraing Dong village – who said they found a large stone with ancient inscriptions on it while they were ploughing.
“I contacted the National Museum and took the stone to them. Museum experts determined the sandstone was engraved during the 10th century AD,” Sot said.
Separately, a group from Stung Treng provincial culture department received an engraved lintel – known as pder in Khmer, a beam that spans an opening such as a door or window – that had been buried in the Mekong River. It was discovered by villagers in an area called Chroy Bachong in Stung Treng town and retrieved from the river on April 4.
Nhoch Saroeun, acting director of the department, told The Post that the beautifully designed lintel had collapsed and fallen into the Mekong a very long time ago and had not been seen since. Recently, villagers were digging for food near the banks of the Mekong and found it buried in the bottom of the river. They removed it from the river and stored it at Wat Thom Rainsey to await the authorities, who they hoped would store it in a safe place.
She said that on the morning of April 5, she and her team retrieved the lintel and took it to their headquarters in order to study it. She said when they first examined it, the style was unfamiliar to them. It has carved statues on both sides, with a Guru holding a dragon in a circle.
She said the temple had collapsed into the Mekong, although some foundations remained on the riverbank.
However, through the designs embedded on it, Khmer architectural experts have classified it as being in the Thala Parivat style. It dates from the same period as nine other temples in the Phnom Preah Theat temple complex in Stung Treng town, according to Ouk Sokha, head of the heritage department.
“We were thrilled when we examined this lintel after it had lain buried for centuries. It provides clear evidence that our predecessors built the Phu Chong temples, and is a glorious example of the beautiful art of our ancestors,” he said.
It should be noted that the Funan kingdom — located on modern Cambodian and Vietnamese territory — dates from the 1st to the 6th centuries AD. Historians have divided empires sculptures or statues and architecture into two styles, including the Phnom Da style and the Thala Parivat style.
Thala Parivat is a newly identified style that has only recently been studied in detail. It was named by culture ministry experts. This style focuses on landscapes, and incorporates dragon and lion motifs across the various parts of its temples.
There are 15 catalogued styles of Khmer art – Phnom Da, Thala Parivat, Sambo Prei Kuk, Prey Kmeng, Kampong Preah, Kulen, Preah Ko, Bakheng, Koh Ker, Pre Roub, Banteay Srei, Preah Khleang, Ba Puon, Angkor Wat and Bayon.