Original Wall Block Found in the Woods at Phnom Bakheng
The WMF team working to restore Phnom Bakheng temple in Angkor recently identified the exact location of an original wall stone unit in the wooded side of the hill. This is big news because only in a few cases can we tell 100% the original location of a stone block.
The team had been conducting a survey of the scattered stones on the hill slope. This survey normally allows us to define only if the block is from a stone shrine, a brick shrine, an elevation wall, or a library.
Initially, the team of site workers didn’t understand the importance of this particular stone, also because it was partially buried in the ground. Fortunately, Mr. Im Nareth, who WMF considers the team’s “expert” in stone recognition, was there too. He’s been working with WMF since 2011, and before had worked with other international teams at different temples. His father worked for the French team EFEO, before the coup d’état in 1970. He has developed a good eye for stones and we often ask him for advice.
By looking at the stone, Nareth recognized two interesting features in particular. The existing decoration seemed to show that the stone was originally from the top layer of an elevation wall. The existence of a well-defined interlocking system and in particular its layout immediately lead him to believe that it was from a corner. The block was showing the remainders of the interlocking system not only on the bottom face but also on the sides.
The experienced members of the survey team, who know Phnom Bakheng temple very well, thus remembered a specific block at the top layer of the southeast corner of level B and how it never seemed to perfectly blend in. The team argued that its joints did not completely match the surrounding units. Our archaeologist Chea Sarith, who leads this team, believes the block was put there at a later time—given its scale it was probably taken from level C, and likely not from a corner. It appears that during past interventions it was adjusted to fit in that position. The comparison of the size of the new found block with its potential original location confirmed that it came from that exact corner. The team removed the block in place and installed the original stone unit.
Its size, shape, and joints match perfectly, but the color is different from the surrounding units. This is because it has been buried in the ground for a good amount of time and not exposed to atmospheric weathering in the same way as the blocks already in place. But thanks to this, the block’s decoration can still be appreciated. The profound knowledge developed by the WMF workers again proved to be instrumental in making this happen.
Image top: Original block found in the hill slope and installed in its original position.