National Museum Exhibition
The Ancestors of Angkor
The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh has long been one of the most important institutions with a mission to preserve, protect and display the rich cultural heritage of Cambodia. From May to December 2009 it is displaying The Ancestors of Angkor, a temporary installation highlighting the museum’s important role in transmitting knowledge through exhibitions and other educational activities such as lectures and symposia.
Cambodians and foreigners alike know very little about prehistoric Cambodia. This exhibition provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance and richness of the pre-Angkorian time period. Equally it serves to highlight the threat to the roots of the country’s history that ongoing looting imposes. By replicating the burial site discovered when the West Baray reservoir was unusually dry in 2004 and 2005, the museum has made it possible for the first time to show the public how the objects in an archaeological dig are discovered, excavated and conserved. There are displays of prehistoric materials from recent archaeological finds along with explanations of what the researchers learned about the ancient civilization.
The display includes a selection of prehistoric materials from two sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park: a 2,000 year old village located next to the West Baray reservoir and the 3,000 year old burial site under the Baray surface. Besides the burial site reconstruction with pottery sherds and a 3,000 year old skeleton, the exhibition displays artifacts from both sites and provides didactic panels in Khmer, English, and French.
An informative display showcases the challenges of excavating and reconstructing ceramic objects. It explains how pottery found at excavation sites has usually over the millennia been flattened by the weight of the accumulated soil and may be crushed into hundreds of pieces. Many pots skillfully reconstructed by the Museum’s Ceramics Conservation Laboratory illustrate the challenge. Tools used in excavations are shown to reinforce the impression of visiting an authentic archaeological site. Photographs of the 2005 dig provide detailed information and a documentary filmed during the excavation also enhances the exhibition. In August 2009 the Museum organized ‘Recent Research on Prehistory in Cambodia’, a seminar on archaeology and pre-Angkorian Cambodia with papers presented by local and international scholars to provide a better understanding of Cambodia’s heritage. It was free and open to the public, who packed the Museum’s conference room. A scholarly catalogue will soon be published.
The imaginative concept and design of the installation represents a new approach for the National Museum and acknowledges its important link with archaeology. The institution is playing an increasingly important role in transmitting knowledge about Cambodian history through such exhibitions and other educational activities
Thanks to FOKCI’s major support, along with funds from EFEO, UNESCO, and APSARA, this valuable exhibition presenting several years of scientific analyses and meticulous conservation work by many specialists was made possible. It conforms very well with FOKCI’s goal of helping the development of a new generation of scholars of Khmer Culture.