The jungles of northern Cambodia are filled with relics from the rise and fall of the great Khmer empire, most proudly displayed at the temple of Angkor Wat. Although this means archaeologists, tourists, and looters are pretty well acquainted with the area, no one expected this latest discovery.
On July 30, an ongoing dig unearthed a massive human statue from around the 12th to 13th century CE. The 1.9-meter-tall (6.2-foot-tall) sandstone human figure is believed to have stood as a symbolic guardian at the entrance of an ancient hospital in the former city of Angkor Thom, near the world-famous Angkor Wat temple. Since many of complex's most valuable items have been looted over the centuries, the discovery of this artifact is a pleasant surprise.
Although the statue is missing its feet and parts of its legs, you can still clearly make out the ornate decorations and engravings on its head and face. It was buried a mere 10 centimeters (4 inches) deep in the earth.
“We were very surprised to find this,” Im Sokrithy, project leader from the government organization Apsara Authority, told Cambodia Daily.
The Angkor complex, found in northern Cambodia, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and home to the stunning Angkor Wat temple complex. The temple was completed under the rule of Jayavarman VII and originally created to be a Hindu temple for the god Vishnu. Towards the end of the 12th century CE, it was then converted into a Buddhist temple. Nowadays, it's listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Asia's biggest tourist hotspots.
“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.”
The current excavation by the Apsara National Authority is focused on studying the area between the river and the hospital. As digging continues, they hope it provides insight into ancient southeastern medicine and science, along with a general picture of everyday life in this ancient civilization.
"There are four hospitals identified at the four cardinal points of Angkor Thom,” added Dr Rethy Chhem, Apsara Authority advisor. “They were identified by French archaeologists about 100 years ago, but had never been excavated.”