A Sandstone Statue from the Musasir Kingdom

A Sandstone Statue from the Musasir Kingdom

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Great Black Kingdoms In Early South Asia

The great classical civilizations of Southeast Asia are Angkor in Cambodia and Champa in Vietnam. Much of our knowledge of early Southeast Asia is derived from Chinese and Indian sources. The builders of Angkor were the Khmers. The Khmer men were described by the Chinese as “small and Black.” In modern times, as early as 1923, Harvard University anthropologist Roland Burrage Dixon noted that the ancient Khmers were physically “marked by distinctly short stature, dark skin, curly or even frizzly hair, broad noses and thick Negroid lips.”


Early in the ninth century, King Jayavarman II (802-850) unified the Khmer kingdom and identified himself with the powerful Hindu deity Shiva. The Khmers of Angkor were sophisticated agriculturalists, advanced engineers, aggressive merchants and intrepid warriors. They developed a splendid irriga­tion system (with some canals extending forty miles in length), and created grandiose hydraulic works. The hydraulic system of Angkor was used for transportation and for rice cultivation to support a surrounding population estimated at one million people.

During the reign of King Indravarman I (877-889), for example, the vast artificial lake known as the Indratataka was completed. For the harsh purposes of war the Khmer engineers designed machines to launch fearsome arrows and hurl sharp spears at their enemies, and rode boldly into battle atop ornately outfitted elephants.

In the Khmer language, Angkor means the city or the capital. In 889 King Yasovarman I (889-900) constructed his capital on the current site of Angkor, and over the centuries Khmer monarchs augmented the city with their own distinct contributions.

Angkor eventually covered an expanse of 77 square miles and was designed to be completely self-sufficient. The Khmers were magnificent builders in stone and for more than 600 years successive Angkor dynasties commissioned the construction of meticulously detailed temples, such as Banteay Samre, marvelous artificial lakes like the Indratataka, and incomparable temple-mountains, including Angkor Wat–the crown jewel of Angkor and estimated to contain as much stone as the fourth dynasty pyramid of King Khafre in Old Kingdom Kmt (ancient Egypt).

Called “the largest stone monument in the world,” Angkor Wat, the most famous of the Khmer stone structures, took 37 years to build. During this period, millions of tons of sandstone used in its construction were transported to the site by river raft from a quarry at Mount Kulen, located 25 miles to the northeast. Angkor Wat rises in three successive flights to five central towers that represent the peaks of Mount Meru–the cosmic or world mountain that lies at the center of the universe in Hindu mythology and considered the celestial residence of the Hindu pantheon. The towers of Angkor Wat (the tallest of which rises about two hundred feet above the surrounding flatlands) are Cambodia’s national symbol. The temple’s outer walls represent the mountains at the edge of the world, while the moat surrounding the temple represents the oceans beyond.

Angkor Wat dates from the 12th century reign of Suryavarman II (1113-1150) when the Khmer dominion over Southeast Asia was at its zenith, with an empire stretching from the South China Sea to modern Thailand, as far north as the uplands of Laos and as far south as the Malay Peninsula.


Angkor was not the only significant kingdom of its time in Southeast Asia. Another major Southeast Asian power and sometimes rival of Angkor was the kingdom of Champa. Champa was the great kingdom of the Blacks on the coast of Southeast Asia in central Vietnam. Indeed, the facial characteristics on the statues of the Cham are as Africoid as anywhere, including full lips and broad noses.

The Cham are believed to have settled along the coastal plains of central Vietnam (Annam) more than two millennia ago. The economy of Champa was based on agriculture and maritime trade. They exported rice and forest products, including sandalwood, and essentially dominated the area from about the fourth century through the 13th century.

Chinese dynastic records from as early as 192 C.E. reference a kingdom of Lin-yi, which meant the “land of Black men.” The kingdom of Lin-yi was known as Champa in Sanskrit documents. They stated the inhabitants possessed “‘black skin, eyes deep in the orbit, nose turned up, hair frizzy” at a period when they were not yet subject to foreign domination and preserved the purity of this type. These records expressly state that: “For the complexion of men, they consider Black the most beautiful. In all the kingdoms of the southern region, it is the same.”

During this same period Cham ships, known to the Chinese by the appellation kun-lun bo (the “vessels of Black men”), were navigating the currents of the Indian Ocean from Southeast Asia to Madagascar.

Among the major centers of Champa were those based near Dong Duong, Tra Kieu and Pandulanga (Phan-Rang). The great southem capital was Vijaya (Binh Dinh), and the early northern capital and religious center was Mi Son.

More than 70 temples were constructed at Mi Son from the seventh century through the 12th centuries. The masterpiece of Cham architecture at Mi Son was an enormous, 70-foot-high stone tower that was destroyed by United States Army commandos in August 1969.


By the beginning of the 10th century the Cham were being aggressively pressured and gradually absorbed by Sinicized Vietnamese. By the end of the century, Sinicized Vietnamese had annexed the northern provinces of Champa. In 1225, the Vietnamese once again followed a course of aggression, and in 1283 the Mongols under Kublai Khan desolated the entire coast. All told, however, more than a hundred temples and a multitude of exquisite statuary have survived to remind us of the former splendor of the traders, artisans and royalty of the realm of the Cham.


Jayamarman VII, Khmer king of Angkor. 14th century entrance to Angkor Thom. Photo by Harmara Holt

The reign of Jayavarman VII (1181-1220) marks the height and the begin­ning of the decline of the kingdom of Angkor. Jayavarman VII (the prefix of whose name, Jaya, in Sanskrit, means “victory”) was so successful in his military campaigns with Champa that during the last 17 years of his reign Champa was virtually a Khmer province. Jayavarman VII lived more than nine decades, ruling with strength and wisdom.

In 1181 Jayavarman VII was proclaimed king in the battled-scarred and essentially devastated Khmer capital, and many of the monuments of Angkor reflect his Herculean reconstruction efforts and seemingly ceaseless building projects. Jayavarman VII built more than any other Khmer king. It is calculated that he built more than all the others put together. In fact, as magnificent as it is, Angkor Wat is only one of 215 sites in the immediate region. Other famous sites include the Bayon, the sculptured stone mountain at the center of the six-square-mile walled city of Angkor Thom, about a mile northeast of Angkor Wat, and the capital of the Khmer empire from the late 10th century through the early thirteenth century.


After the death of Jayavarman VII, Angkor began to decline, and no great monuments were constructed after his reign. And thus were eclipsed the bright shining lights of the Black presence in Southeast Asian civilizations—the kingdom of Angkor and the kingdom of Champa. And yet the monuments and the faces etched in stone survive to us the story.

The Book of the Dead

The Book of the Dead was a funerary text designed to assist a deceased person’s journey through the underworld and into the afterlife.

Learning Objectives

Describe what the Book of the Dead was and explain its use in Ancient Egypt

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Book of the Dead was part of a tradition of funerary texts which includes the earlier Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom and Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom .
  • Unlike previous texts which were written on walls or objects in the funerary chamber, the Book of the Dead was written on expensive papyrus .
  • There was no single Book of the Dead, and works tended to vary widely, perhaps based on the preferences of the people commissioning them.
  • The text of a Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom was typically written in cursive hieroglyphs , with lavish illustrations between the text.

Key Terms

  • hieratic:A writing system used in pharaonic Egypt that was developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, primarily written in ink with a reed brush on papyrus, allowing scribes to write quickly without resorting to the time consuming hieroglyphs.
  • papyrus:A material similar to paper made from the Cyperus papyrus plant.

The Book of the Dead is the modern name of an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom (around 1550 BCE) to around 50 BCE. The original Egyptian name is translated as “Book of Coming Forth by Day,” or “Book of Emerging Forth into the Light.” According to ancient Egyptian beliefs, it was the ba (the free-ranging spirit aspect of the deceased) that went “forth by day” into the underworld and afterlife, while the ka (life force) remained in the tomb.

Despite the word “book” in the common title, the Book of the Dead was actually printed on scrolls, as opposed to bound texts. The text, placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased, consisted of magic spells intended to assist a deceased person’s journey through the Duat, or underworld, and into the afterlife. At present, some 192 spells are known, though no single manuscript contains all of them. The spells served a range of purposes, such as giving the deceased mystical knowledge in the afterlife, guiding them past obstacles in the underworld, or protecting them from various hostile forces. In total, the spells in the Book of the Dead provide vital information regarding ancient Egyptian beliefs on death, interment, and the afterlife.

Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts

The Book of the Dead was part of a tradition of funerary texts which includes the earlier Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom and the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom. However, it differed from its predecessors in many ways. For instance, Pyramid Texts were written in an unusual hieroglyphic style , were exclusive to those of royal privilege, and saw the afterlife as being in the sky. The Coffin Texts used a newer version of the language, included illustrations for the first time, and were available to wealthy private individuals. Both were painted onto walls or objects in the funerary chamber. The Book of the Dead, in contrast , was painted on expensive papyrus, written in cursive hieroglyph, and saw the afterlife as being part of the underworld. The earliest examples developed towards the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period, around 1700 BCE, and included new spells among older texts. By the Seventeenth Dynasty , the spells were typically inscribed on linen shrouds wrapped around the dead, though occasionally they are found written on coffins or on papyrus.

The Book of the Dead

The New Kingdom saw the Book of the Dead develop and spread further. The famous “Spell 125,” the Weighing of the Heart, is first known from the reign of Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III (c.1475 BCE). In “Spell 125,” the heart of the deceased must be weighed against the Feather of Truth before the deceased can pass into the afterlife. The jackal-headed god Anubis weighed the heart, while the ibis-headed god Thoth recorded the results. A heavy heart indicated sin and resulted in the deceased being devoured by a crocodile-like creature named Ammit. On the other hand, a lightweight heart equal with the weight of the feather allowed the deceased to enter the afterlife and enjoy an eternity that, although plentiful, required manual labor. For this reason, the Book of the Dead included spells for statuettes called shebti (later ushebti) to perform in the deceased’s place.

From the fourteenth century BCE onward, the Book of the Dead was typically written on a papyrus scroll and the text was illustrated with elaborate and lavish vignettes. Later in the Third Intermediate Period, the Book of the Dead started to appear in hieratic script as well as in the traditional hieroglyphics. The last use of the Book of the Dead was in the first century BCE, though some artistic motifs drawn from it were still in use in Roman times.

The Weighing of the Heart: In Spell 125, Anubis weighs the heart of Hunefer. This spell is first known from the reign of Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III, c. 1475 BC.

There was no single Book of the Dead, and works tended to vary widely. Some people seem to have commissioned their own copies, perhaps choosing the spells they thought were most vital in their own progression to the afterlife. Later in the Twenty-Fifth and Twenty-Sixth Dynasties, however, the Book was revised and standardized, with spells consistently ordered and numbered for the first time.

Books were commissioned by people in preparation for their own funeral, or by the relatives of someone recently deceased. They were written by scribes, and sometimes the work of several different scribes was literally pasted together. Composed of joined sheets of papyrus, the dimensions of a Book of the Dead could vary from one to 40 meters. Books were often prefabricated in funerary workshops, with space left for when the name of the deceased would be written in later.

The text of a New Kingdom Book of the Dead was typically written in cursive hieroglyphs, most often from left to right, but also sometimes from right to left. The hieroglyphs were in columns separated by black lines , and illustrations were put in frames above, below, or between the columns of text. The text was written in both black and red ink from either carbon or ochre , respectively. The style and nature of the vignettes used to illustrate a Book of the Dead varies widely: some contain lavish color illustrations, even making use of gold leaf , while others contain only line drawings or a simple illustration at the opening.

Cursive hieroglyphs from the Papyrus of Ani: During the New Kingdom, the Book of the Dead was typically written in cursive hieroglyphs.

Angkor Wat’s Design

Although Angkor Wat was no longer a site of political, cultural or commercial significance by the 13th century, it remained an important monument for the Buddhist religion into the 1800s.

Indeed, unlike many historical sites, Angkor Wat was never truly abandoned. Rather, it fell gradually into disuse and disrepair.

Nonetheless, it remained an architectural marvel unlike anything else. It was “rediscovered” in 1840s by the French explorer Henri Mouhot, who wrote that the site was “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”

The compliment can likely be attributed to the temple’s design, which is supposed to represent Mount Meru, the home of the gods, according to tenets of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Its five towers are intended to recreate the five peaks of Mount Meru, while the walls and moat below honor the surrounding mountain ranges and the sea.

By the time of the site’s construction, the Khmer had developed and refined their own architectural style, which relied on sandstone. As a result, Angkor Wat was constructed with blocks of sandstone.

A 15-foot high wall, surrounded by a wide moat, protected the city, the temple and residents from invasion, and much of that fortification is still standing. A sandstone causeway served as the main access point for the temple.

Inside these walls, Angkor Wat stretches across more than 200 acres. It’s believed that this area included the city, the temple structure and the emperor’s palace, which was just north of the temple.

However, in keeping with tradition at the time, only the city’s outer walls and the temple were made of sandstone, with the rest of the structures built from wood and other, less durable materials. Hence, only portions of the temple and city wall remain.

Even so, the temple is still a majestic structure: At its highest point—the tower above the main shrine—it reaches nearly 70 feet into the air.

The temple walls are decorated with thousands of bas-reliefs representing important deities and figures in the Hindu and Buddhist religions as well as key events in its narrative tradition. There is also a bas-relief depicting Emperor Suryavarman II entering the city, perhaps for the first time following its construction.

2 historic Khmer statues returned to Cambodia

WASHINGTON &ndash U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement&rsquos (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State and Cambodia Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, returned two Khmer statues to Cambodia during a repatriation ceremony at the National Museum of Cambodia April 3.

The first item is an 11th Century sandstone Khmer statue torso of the Khleang style wearing a Khmer sampot, a traditional garment of Cambodia. The statue was part of an administrative seizure in 2017, when HSI San Francisco received information regarding the sale at an auction house in California. The auction house owner said the piece was imported in 1992 with a certificate of authenticity issued in Bangkok, Thailand, which identified the item as &ldquoBody of Khmer in Angkor Wat.&rdquo The antiquity expert determined the statue had a fair market value of $75,000.

The second item, dated between the early 10th to late 10th century, is a large gray sandstone Khmer statue torso of an unidentified deity. The item was a part of a criminal seizure in September 2005, when the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protections and HSI Los Angeles confiscated it from a partial shipment of goods that arrived in the United States from Thailand. Experts value this statue at about $120,000.

&ldquoOn every return of Khmer artifacts from abroad, it is a testament to the fact that a full cooperative and peaceful partnership exists, the result of efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia and United States government, to make possible the return of the statues that have left the country,&rdquo said Cambodian Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Dr. Phoeurng Sackona.

In 2018, Cambodia signed a historical memorandum of understanding with the United States titled &ldquoThe Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archeological Material of Cambodia.&rdquo The agreement aims to reduce the incentive for the pillage of irreplaceable archaeological materials representing Cambodia&rsquos rich cultural heritage.

&ldquoAs we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of U.S. &ndash Cambodia diplomatic relations, today&rsquos return of these two statues serves as a reminder of what our two countries have achieved together,&rdquo said U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy.

During the repatriation ceremony, the government of Cambodia presented HSI a letter of appreciation extending profound gratitude and appreciation for the agency&rsquos assistance repatriating the two Khmer Statues.

&ldquoThe attention to details exemplifies the U.S. government agencies&rsquo professionalism and serves as a model for cooperation of experts worldwide in the efforts to stop the illegal trade of precious and irreplaceable patrimony of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The work of the U.S. embassy in coordination with Homeland Security not only protects cultural heritage, but also reinforces the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,&rdquo said Sackona.

HSI&rsquos International Operations, through its 80 offices in 53 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, and is committed to pursuing a strategy to combat transnational organized crime related to the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by targeting high-priority organizations and strengthening international law enforcement partnerships.

ICE has recovered and returned approximately 12,500 artifacts to more than 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria cultural artifacts from China and Cambodia dinosaur fossils from Mongolia and illuminated manuscript left from Italy a pair of royal Korean seals, ancient Peruvian ceramics, an ancient gold coffin repatriated to Egypt, and most recently, more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus&rsquo letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to the Government of Italy.

Despite increasingly aggressive enforcement efforts to prevent the theft of cultural heritage and other antiquities, the illicit movement of such items across international borders continues to challenge global law enforcement efforts to reduce the trafficking of such property. Trafficking in antiquities is estimated to be a multi-billion-dollar transnational criminal enterprise.

Members of the public who have information about the illicit distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

King Argishti I, the Founder of Yerevan

A King of Kingdom of Van Argishti I, the son of Menua II, succeeded his brother and king Inushpa. During the years of his reign, the Kingdom of Van reached the zenith of its military-political power.

Fighting against Assyria, Argishti got an upper hand and pushed back Assyria’s influence beyond the borders of Northern Mesopotamia, the Commagene, and Northern Assyria. He took over the military and trade routes of the regions of the Eastern Mesopotamia and the southeast of Asia Minor and united the whole Armenian Highlands.

During the reign of King Argishti I, the city-fortresses of Erebuni (modern Yerevan) and Argishtikhinili (Armavir) were built, water channels were dug, temples, palaces, and barns were constructed. Besides, agriculture, handicrafts, and trade developed quite intensively.

Many records of King Arghishti I were discovered, the most known one being the chronicles of Khorkhor. Historians suggest that Argishti was buried in the religious center of Bianlini in the temple of Musasir where a two-ton bronze statue of King Argishti I stands.

In 782 BC, Argishti founded the city-fortress of Erebuni on a hill called Arinberd. Later, the city would be renamed Yerevan. In 1968, the 2750th anniversary of the city was celebrated. In 1998, the capital of the Republic of Armenia Yerevan became 2780 years old.

During excavations, inscriptions of Argishti made right after the foundation of the city were found. Besides, archaeologists unearthed ruins of the kingly palace, the so-called Susy temple.

Erebuni-Yerevan is one of the most ancient cities in the world. It is 29 years older than the “eternal city” of Rome. Some scholars claim that “Erebuni” (or “Ereboun”) means “victory”.

Today, it is hardly possible to guess what exactly the king meant by naming the city “Erebuni”. Maybe it was for the victory of the builders’ spirit. After all, the genius of the Armenian people was quite clearly reflected in the field of construction and architecture.

The Armenians usually enter this world to build, create, and improve their homeland, although Yerevan today is not a symbol of magnificence.

Yerevan is a wonderful lighthouse illuminating the life paths of Armenians living in different parts of the world. It tries to stir up the Armenian genes in the core of its sons and daughters living in foreign lands.

Yerevan (The Capital older than Rome)


Cuneiform of Argishti. Fortress of Erebuni – Yerevan

King Seti II of Egypt

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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Return Of 10Th Century Sandstone Sculpture To The Kingdom Of Cambodia

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the return of the Duryodhana, a 10th Century sandstone sculpture, to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The return of the Duryodhana follows the settlement of a civil forfeiture action filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which alleged that the Duryodhana was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in 1972 by an organized looting network, and ultimately imported into the United States and offered for sale by Sotheby’s Inc. (“Sotheby’s”). The settlement of the civil forfeiture action, which was approved by United States District Judge George B. Daniels on December 16, 2013, required Sotheby’s and the customer selling the Duryodhana, Decia Ruspoli de Poggia Suasa (“Ruspoli”), to return the sculpture to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “A priceless piece of Cambodia’s cultural history was stolen over 40 years ago. Once stolen, the Duryodhana should not have been for sale at any price. By bringing legal action to cause the return of the Duryodhana to the Kingdom of Cambodia, we have reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that Manhattan does not become a Mecca for stolen art and antiquities. Everyone who sells, collects, or curates art should support doing what is right when it comes to repatriating priceless stolen artifacts. We are proud to have played a role in removing the Duryodhana from the stream of commerce, and pleased to commemorate its imminent return to its homeland.”

HSI Special Agent-in-Charge James T. Hayes, Jr., said: “HSI is proud to partner with the Southern District of New York to return this statue to the people of Cambodia after a more than 40-year absence. HSI is committed to continuing to be the dominant force in preserving and maintaining the integrity of cultural symbols throughout the world.”

According to an Amended Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court in April 2013, and other documents filed in the case:

From 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker was the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia. The Khmer regime under Jayavarman IV constructed a vast complex of sacred monuments at Koh Ker, including the Prasat Chen temple and its statuary. These monuments have never been transferred to any private owner, and remain the property of the Cambodian state.

During the civil conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Koh Ker and entered the international art market through an organized looting network. In the case of monumental statues like the Duryodhana, the heads would sometimes be forcibly detached from the torsos and transported first, with the torsos following later, due to the physical challenges of transporting the large torsos on dirt roads. The statues would then be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border, and transferred to Thai brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers of Khmer artifacts in Thailand, particularly Bangkok. These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would either retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market.

The Duryodhana, along with a companion statue, the Bhima, was stolen from Prasat Chen in 1972 via this looting network. The heads of the statues were removed and transported first, followed by the torsos, and ultimately delivered to a Thai dealer based in Bangkok. The Duryodhana and the Bhima were then obtained by a well-known collector of Khmer antiquities (Athe [email protected]). The Duryodhana was sold to a Belgian businessman in 1975 and was ultimately transferred to his widow, Ruspoli.

In 2010, Ruspoli consigned the Duryodhana to Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s imported it into the United States and offered it for sale in 2011.

Mr. Bharara thanked HSI for its outstanding work on this investigation, which he noted is ongoing, and praised its ongoing efforts to find and repatriate stolen and looted cultural property. Mr. Bharara also thanked the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and L’Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient for their assistance.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit. Assistant U. S. Attorneys Sharon Cohen Levin, Alexander J. Wilson, Sarah E. Paul, and Christine I. Magdo are in charge of the case.

A “Priceless Piece of Cambodia’s Cultural History” Has Been Returned After 40 Years

The Duryodhana (left) and the Bhima (aka Temple Wrestler) (c. 925–50 CE), sandstone, 61-3/4 in (156.8 cm), Norton Simon Art Foundation, M.1980.15.S (Duryodhana images courtesy US Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and the Bhima image courtesy the Norton Simon Art Foundation)

This week, we learned that two important Cambodian sandstone sculptures from the 10th century — one in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and the other seized from Sotheby’s New York in 2012 — will be returned to the Kingdom of Cambodia after being looted in the 1970s.

The Duryodhana digitally reunited with its podium, which is at Cambodia’s National Museum (image courtesy US Immigration & Customs Enforcement)

Yesterday, the Norton Simon Museum announced that they would be making a “gift” of the colossal sculpture, known as the Bhima, after nearly four decades on display in its institution. And today, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations announced the return of the Duryodhana, the companion sculpture to the Bhima, to the Kingdom of Cambodia. In 2012, we reported that the Duryodhana had been seized at Sotheby’s in New York.

The sculptures are believed to be from Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia. Both statues, which represent wrestlers, once stood guard at the Prasat Chen at Koh Ker. When the works are reunited in their home country, they are expected to form the centerpiece of a special exhibition at the Cambodian National Museum dedicated to the temple complex at Koh Ker. Cambodian authorities are still trying to recover all of the ancient sculptures (Arjuna, Balarama, Dhrishtadyumna, Krsna, Nakula, Sahadeva, and Yudhisthira) that flanked the Duryodhana and Bjima. So far they have successfully recovered three of the seven.

As part of the Duryodhana repatriation ceremony today in Manhattan, US Attorney Preet Bharara explained that the work was “a priceless piece of Cambodia’s cultural history” that was stolen over 40 years ago. “Once stolen, the Duryodhana should not have been for sale at any price. By bringing legal action to cause the return of the Duryodhana to the Kingdom of Cambodia, we have reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that Manhattan does not become a Mecca for stolen art and antiquities. Everyone who sells, collects, or curates art should support doing what is right when it comes to repatriating priceless stolen artifacts,” he said.

According to legal documents filed about the Duryodhana, around 2007 a stone conservator examined the two pedestals of the Duryodhana and the Bhima and discovered that both still had the feet attached, as the statues were broken for removal at the ankles. The documents explain:

“The conservator engaged in archival and bibliographic research and located in a book a photograph of a Khmer statue at a museum in the United States … which appeared to match the Bhima’s feet.”

The conservator recorded his research in a paper dated May 2007. The findings were confirmed by another researcher two years later.

A digital rendering of the Prasat Chen sculptures that shows the centrality of the Duryodhana and Bhima sculptures to the grouping (image courtesy US Immigration & Customs Enforcement)

One surprising note in the amended complaint for the Duryodhana states that in the 1970s an auction house based in the United Kingdom was aware that the sculpture was looted from Koh Ker, and representatives of the auction house “conspired with the Collector and the Thai Dealer to fraudulently obtain export licenses for the [Duryodhana] … and other antiquities to be shipped to the Auction House in the future.” The auction house is not identified.

Many Cambodian antiquities were looted from the country’s historic sites during the political turmoil of the 1960s and ’70s and funneled to international art markets through Thai brokers and contacts. The Duryodhana and the Bhima are believed to have been stolen from Prasat Chen at Koh Ker in 1972.

The Duryodhana was sold in 1975 to a Belgian businessman. His widow consigned the statue to Sotheby’s in 2010. In September 2010, Sotheby’s retained a professional art “scientist” to prepare a report on the head of the statue, which was detached from the torso sometime in the 1970s. When the art scientist suggested more tests were needed to determine the reasons for the break and the varying condition of the two parts, Sotheby’s “terminated the Scientist’s engagement.” The statue was then featured on the cover of Sotheby’s March 2011 Asian auction catalogue, before being withdrawn from sale when questions about its provenance were raised. But, the amended complaint explains that, even after withdrawing the piece from auction, Sotheby’s:

” … provided inaccurate information regarding its provenance to numerous parties, including potential buyers, the Kingdom of Cambodia, and United States law enforcement, specificall that the [statue] … had been seen in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s. As Sotheby’s was aware, many museum and other buyers will not purchase antiquities without a pre-1970 provenance.”

The Bhima was acquired by the Norton Simon Museum in Southern California in 1976 from a New York art dealer, whom they emphasized in their press release about the gift was “reputable.” The Cambodian government has agreed to loan other ancient Khmer statues to the Norton Simon Museum periodically to help fill the hole left by the departure of the Bhima.

Bibliography [ edit | edit source ]

Aldred, Cyril. The Development of Ancient Egyptian Art From 3200 to 1315 B.C. London: Alec Tiranti, 1965.

Smith, William Stevenson. Ancient Egypt as Represented in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1960.

Aldred, Cyril. Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharaohs, 3100-320 BC. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.

Ladouceur, David J. “Old Kingdom Period in Egypt.” Hackensack Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2013.

Hawass, Zahi A., The Funerary Establishments of Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura During the Old Kingdom. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1987.

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