Unexpected Find of Impressive Ancient Statue at Cambodia's Angkor Complex
A team of archaeologists has uncovered a large ancient statue that is thought to have once stood as a guard over an ancient hospital to the north of Cambodia’s Angkor Thom city complex.
Impressive Ancient Statue Unearthed in Angkor Thom Complex
The almost two-meters tall statue, which is believed to be from the late 12th to the early 13th century, was spotted during a dig in Siem Reap province last Saturday, as Im Sokrithy, an archaeologist with the Apsara Authority, the government organization managing Angkor Park, and the dig’s scientific supervisor stated. “We were very surprised to find this,” he told Cambodia Daily, and added that the sandstone statue is missing its feet and parts of its legs, otherwise it would have stood at least 2.1 meters (in its original form) and weighed in at 200kg (440 pounds).
Archaeologists made a grid to draw the statue which is in the form of a guard, before moving it. (Image: Apsara Authority)
The Angkor Archaeological Park is Cambodia’s most popular tourist attraction and a world heritage site due to the many remains it boasts from the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, dating from the 9th to the 15th centuries. During the peak of its power the city hosted hundreds of temples and more than a million citizens, making it one of the planets most populous pre-industrial cities.
The statue was found next to one of four hospitals which were discovered in Angkor Thon a century ago. It is one of 102 that King Jayavarman VII had constructed in the Angkor empire.
“Jayavarman VII’s reign was truly remarkable in terms of social programs,” he said. “The hospital consisted of wooden buildings and a chapel erected in stones. What is left is the chapel…as wooden structures have long disappeared,” explained Tan Boun Suy, deputy director-general for the Apsara Authority as reported by Cambodia Daily.
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The Great Sacred City of Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom (which means ‘Great City’) was the last capital of the mighty Khmer Empire, which was based in modern day Cambodia. As previously reported in another Ancient Origins article, this typically intricately decorated Khmer city, which is located in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, was fortified by massive walls, which in turn were surrounded a great moat. In order to enter this protected city, one had to cross one of Angkor Thom’s enormous causeways. As a capital city, Angkor Thom contained numerous important structures, including temples, royal residences, and administrative buildings. Today, Angkor Thom is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor, which also includes the famous Temple of Angkor Wat.
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The archaeology team respectfully ask the spirit protecting the site permission to move the statue they unearthed the previous day to the Preah Sihanouk Museum in Siem Reap province. (Image: Apsara Authority)
Angkor Thom was founded around the later part of the 12 th century AD, during the reign of Jayavarman VII, who is often regarded as the greatest king of the Khmer Empire. This city was established following the sacking of the previous capital, Angkor, by the Chams during the reign of Jayavarman’s predecessor. The layout of Jayavarman’s new capital was in the shape of an almost perfect square, which was separated from the surrounding areas by a circuit of huge walls, and a moat reported to have contained crocodiles.
In order to enter Angkor Thom, a visitor would need to pass through one of the five monumental gates that are found along the city walls. The northern, southern and western walls each have a gate, whilst the eastern one has two. Additionally, these gates are reached via causeways that cross the moat. These causeways are flanked by 54 statues on each side, demons on the right, and gods on the left. The demons may be identified by their fearsome facial expressions and military headdresses, whilst the gods look calm, and are wearing conical headdresses. At the beginning of each causeway is the statue of a nine-headed serpent, whose body is held by the gods and demons. This arrangement depicts the famous Hindu myth known as the ‘Churning of the Ocean’.
Statues at the South Gate of Angkor Thom in Cambodia, with gods holding the 9-headed serpent. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Angkor Thom Today and the Importance of Recent Find
In recent years, vast parts of the park have been excavated, creating a marvelous archaeological walking path that attracts more than two million visitors a year. However, the famed complex of the historic city still remains a mystery that hasn’t been fully explored. The recent finding is a clear proof of this. Maybe that’s why when the Cambodian archaeologists from Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies found the beautiful statue buried only 40 centimeters under the ground of the Angkor-era hospital, they couldn’t believe their eyes. As Cambodia Daily reports, archaeologists now suggest that the statue most likely served as a symbolic guardian of the hospital and hope that the excavation will unearth more objects from that era, which could shed light on the daily life and activities in those hospitals and also the lives of ordinary people of the era.
The excavation is conducted by the Apsara Authority in cooperation with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. As part of a training program, ten students from Asian countries, the U.S. and Australia are taking part in the excavation.
Top image: The archaeology team were delighted to find the large statue. (Image: Apsara Authority)