Blog Post

Operation Signage: Angkor Archaeological Park, Day 5

Today was garuda day. Fierce bird-men that appear in both Buddhist and Hindu mythologies, 72 massive sandstone garudas guard the outer wall of Preah Khan, an enormous twelfth-century temple complex that is WMF’s longest-running project at Angkor. I’m putting together some new material for the visitor center here, and the first step was to head out into the jungle to take some new, high-resolution photos of last year’s conservation of garuda #55 (above). We trekked to the seldom-visited south gate, clambering over fallen trees and scaling crumbling temple walls until we found our quarry beside the overgrown, rain-swollen moat. (While the previous sentence is true, I must admit that my guide was an extremely pregnant colleague and I was wearing flip-flops.)

In conservation, there are times when the stone has deteriorated so much that it needs to be replaced. Such was the case with our friend #55, and the last time he was photographed was right after he had been restored, and the new stone was looking very…new. While in all restoration it is imperative to delineate clearly the new from the original, you still want whatever you’re conserving to look like a cohesive whole until closely examined. Fortunately the jungle’s molds, fungi, moss, and lichens are quite obliging, and a year later it’s difficult to spot the new stone from a distance.

Then it was back to the office to incorporate the new photos into an exhibition panel about WMF’s Adopt-a-Garuda program. For the low, low price of $25,000 you can “adopt” one of these big guys (just figuratively—you can’t take him home). Since the program began more than a decade ago, over 30 of the garudas have been sponsored, providing the resources necessary to address the biggest threats to their survival. While I haven’t adopted one yet, I have named a few.

Tomorrow’s my last day in the office for this trip, so I’m off to bed to rest up for another adventurous Angkor day…