Return of Four Cambodia’s Cultural Treasures from the Denver Art Museum Underway

Four cultural treasures will return to Cambodia from the Denver Art Museum, according to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

In support of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the United States of America and the Royal Government of Cambodia, the process to return four (4) cultural treasures to Cambodia is underway, the source said, adding that the U.S. Government, led by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York ("USAO-SDNY") and Homeland Security Investigations ("HSI"), has filed a civil forfeiture action relating to four sculptures and has seized the sculptures from Denver Art Museum.

The Cambodian cultural properties in question are:

1) A Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting standing Prajnaparamita, late 12th-early 13th century, the bodhisattva of wisdom and the spiritual mother of all Buddhas. According to reports from witnesses, it is thought this Prajnaparamita statue was found in a rice field near an ancient temple in Takeo province, not far from Tonle Bati.

2) A Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting Surya, 7th-8th century, the Sun God in Hinduism. It is believed this statue, according to reports from witnesses, was from a temple on Kulen Mountain. There are only a few examples of Surya sculptures in Cambodia.

3) An Iron Age bronze bell. According to witnesses, this bell was found as a set of twelve bells (arranged in a circle around a central stone) in the area of Pursat-Battambang provinces.

4) A sandstone lintel depicting the sleep of Vishnu and birth of Brahma, 7th-8th century. According to witnesses, this lintel, similar to temple lintels at Sambor Prei Kuk in Kampong Thom, is also from a temple on Kulen mountain.

"We are thrilled to continue to welcome such precious treasures back to Cambodia and very pleased with our ongoing collaboration with the U.S. Government. Our continued success is due to the peace in Cambodia through the win-win policy of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which has opened an opportunity for the return of the souls of our Khmer ancestors, which departed from their motherland during war and conflict," stated H.E. Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts.

"We encourage museums and private collectors with Khme cultural properties to reach out to the Ministry to share provenance documentation and to move towards voluntary repatriations of our Cambodian treasures. We continue to gather extensive evidence of the looting of our treasures, and improper possession of them by others. We applaud the U.S. Government's efforts to return our cultural properties and would like to sincerely thank and praise the efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Office, HSI and all relevant authorities both abroad and in Cambodia, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Ministry's team, particularly to Bradley J. Gordon of Edenbridge Asia and Steven Heimberg of Heimberg Barr LLP," she added.

Furthermore, the Minister also acknowledged the invaluable cooperation and joint efforts of the two countries with respect to restoring the country's cultural heritage and identity to ensure that Khmer antiquities are enjoyed and cherished by Cambodians and the world.

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press