The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts is engaged in a significant initiative to protect historical artefacts from a ship that sank over 300 years ago.
Huot Samnang, director of the ministry’s archaeological department, told The Post that a team of experts is in discussion with Ly Huot, commander of maritime security, to request the transfer of the pottery to the ministry for safekeeping.
Samnang emphasised the importance of correctly identifying the artefacts and ensuring their proper handover, with ongoing discussions focused on determining the necessary procedures.
“We asked first for the artefacts to be properly identified and secondly for them to be handed over. We are still discussing the procedures necessary for carrying out the work,” he said.
The recovered pottery, including four-handled jars, pots, pans, among other items, was found by the maritime command last year from a shipwreck initially estimated to be between 300 and 500 years old.
Samnang revealed that the ministry had already pinpointed the location of the sunken ship between Koh Takeo and Koh Russey islands, submerged at a depth of approximately 10m in the sea off Preah Sihanouk province. He noted that in 2020, a group of criminals attempted to retrieve ancient pottery but was apprehended by the authorities.
He said the pottery was retrieved from the wreck between 2018 and 2020 and that a working group from the ministry led by Ouk Sokha, head of the general department of heritage, had conducted an inspection and evaluation of the pottery samples for conservation purposes.
“Currently, the experts cannot definitively identify whether the retrieved pottery is Khmer or Thai as further research is required to make a determination,” he said.
Samnang mentioned the possibility that the ship could have been a merchant vessel transporting goods from the island to other coastal regions in Cambodia or potentially continuing its journey elsewhere. However, this conclusion remains preliminary.
He alluded to the ancient silk trading route from China to Ayutthaya, Thailand, suggesting that this shipwreck might be part of the interconnected trading network during ancient Khmer times. Furthermore, these findings highlight the historical connections between the ancient Khmer civilisation and neighbouring countries.
While Cambodia has a longstanding tradition of archaeological study, underwater archaeology is a relatively new discipline in the country.
Samnang said this recent discovery of this shipwreck in Sihanoukville, following a similar find in Koh Sdach, serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about underwater archaeology within Cambodia and contribute to global knowledge of the Kingdom’s historical significance in ancient trading.
The knowledge gained from these findings also has the potential to attract more tourists to the region, providing invaluable insights into archaeology and cultural heritage, he added.