The “Angkor Ancestors” exhibition at the National Museum of Cambodia provides an interesting glimpse into Cambodia’s history before the birth of the Angkor Empire.
The exhibition, which features artifacts from two excavation sites in Siem Reap province, provides clues about life prior to the Angkor period. The relatively recent findings uncovered by archeologists represent a significant development in understanding pre-Angkorian history in Cambodia.
“If one is interested in pre-Angkor history then this is highly significant,” says Christophe Pottier, an archeologist with L’Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient (EFEO), which has been excavating the two sites since 2003.
The artifacts, which include pottery, tools and human skeletons from as far back as 3,800 years ago, allow experts such as Pottier to gain more information about early civilization in Cambodia.
“We never would have guessed that there were (human) settlements that date back over 3,000 years,” Pottier says. Pottier has been conducting archeological digs in the area that’s home to the Angkor temples for the past 17 years. During the 1990s EFEO assumed the task of surveying and mapping the area.
The areas where the sites are located have typically been covered in water. Heavy rain during Cambodia’s rainy seasons made it difficult to conduct archeological excavations given the amount of water that often remained in the area throughout the year.
But an excavation was possible when Pottier was able to work in the area during a dry-season drought in 1998.
“I knew some [human] remains had been found,” he recalls about what prompted him attempt an archeological dig in the area.
During that dig, Pottier and his colleagues found broken ceramics that he says suggested the existence of an early prehistoric settlement.
During another drought in 2004 Pottier and his team went back into the area for one very dry month before rainfall returned and covered the area in water. During that archeological excavation they found a shallow grave with human remains, Pottier says.
“We were able to determine that this was about 3,000 years old,” he points out.
The findings represent what is considered to be the earliest evidence of civilization in Cambodia.
The overall purpose of the excavation was to determine the diets, behavior and overall day-to-day life of the inhabitants of Cambodia during the pre-Angkor period.
Pottier and his colleagues were able to draw some interesting conclusions from what they discovered at the sites.
It became apparent, for instance, that the people who called Cambodia home during the pre-Angkorian period engaged in rituals that involved the offering of pig heads, Pottier says. Pig head offerings have historically taken place in Eastern culture.
The archeologists made an interesting discovery with some skeletons of females. The skeletons all appeared to have had their teeth deliberately removed, he points out.
The findings essentially provide evidence of how pre-Angkorian society evolved over time.
“So we were able to determine the continuity and changes,” Pottier adds.
The “Angkor Ancestors” exhibition at the National Museum of Cambodia runs until the end of 2009.