New Angkor iPhone App released
Travelfish, a site long dedicated to giving straightforward information to travelers, has released an Angkor iPhone app. This zippy little piece of software is well-thought out and represents a very useful tool to any iPhone toting tourist (more and more of them by the day).

The app comprises the following features;
Comprehensive background information on Siem Reap and Cambodia
    » Independent, anonymous reviews on 40 places to stay
    » More than two dozen recommended cafes, restaurants and bars
» Unsurpassed coverage of Angkor Wat and surrounding sites
    » Detailed transport information including border crossings
    » Four suggested walking tours with integrated mapping
    » Over 200 photos of Cambodia
    » Interactive and highly detailed integrated maps

» No internet connection required once the app is downloaded

Reviews of the app are overwhelmingly positive and Travelfish seems to have set the bar high for other travel destinations.
The app is downloadable from the US iTunes store for US$ 7.99

Visit Travelfish

BC Galleries: The Antiquities Trade Down Under


The following blog entry by Damien Huffer appeared on the SAFE website recently;

A few days ago, a very shocking and depressing addition to my personal monitoring of the global antiquities trade, especially in regards to Southeast Asian artifacts, was brought to my attention. I'm talking about a distributor called BC Galleries ( Formerly a member of, and with clients ranging from individuals, to museums, to other galleries, they have operated out of Melbourne, Australia, since 1976 (with a website for international transactions online since 1999). The company has two major financial associates that lend their operations the air of legitimacy. CINOA (Confederation Internationale des Negociants en Oeuvre d'Art, or International Confederation of Art and Antiquities Dealers Associations) is based out of Brussels, a city notorious for antiquities trafficking in its own right. It represents over 5,000 dealer organizations in 22 countries, all of whom must sign the membership charter to be legally allowed to use the CINOA logo for marketing. Within Australia itself, BC Galleries is also a prominent member of the Australian Association of Art and Antiquities Dealers (AADA). This nation-wide confederation of dealers allows those interested to browse affiliated galleries by State/Territory, or by primary category of antiquities for sale. Their website even contains a message board on which exclusive viewings of specific collections are advertised to the well-to-do visitor or local of the major Australian cities (Sydney, Melbourne, etc.), with the rare objects on view described with the same "hidden jewel," and "National treasure" language that galleries catering to the super-rich tend to employ world-wide. Although, admittedly, much of what is offered for sale by most listed dealers will have nothing to do with the looting of ancient archaeological sites, what I uncovered in my perusal of the BC Galleries' website and on-line catalogues demonstrates that BC Galleries isn't one of them. One can only assume, then, that the stated "goal" of CINOA to "encourage high ethical standards within the trade" must only apply to the aggressive and concentrated use of expert appraisers to remove forgeries from the collections of signatory galleries. It appears that this "ethical concern" does not, howerver, cover the very brazen sale of recently looted antiquities.

The site is organized into two major catalogues; one for "Antiquities," and the other for "Tribal Art," both of which contain artifacts from around the world. The "Tribal Art" catalogue consists solely of artifacts of ethnographic, or relatively recent ethnohistoric, provenance (with "provenance" in this case usually being the name of the ethnic group from which the crafts-person derives, or at the very least, the region/country where the object was acquired from). Importantly, no 'paper trail' is provided up front to explain how these often rare or bulky items came to be for sale through BC Galleries (with a few exceptions being objects that are stated to come from "old collections"). Although a potential buyer can fill out a form to "request more information," what certainty is there that the information provided will be accurate? This problem is even more severe in the case of the "Antiquities" offered for sale, which also span the globe in their source locations. They range in listed date from late 19th/early 20th centuries backwards (to the inclusion of a few mounted collections of European Palaeolithic stone tools), and even include 185 items under the category of "natural history" (fossils, insect specimens in amber, meteorite fragments etc.; all of which have their own illegal harvesting problems).

A basic tabulation of the raw numbers of artifacts for sale (determined from the number of individual entries in each section of the "Antiquities" catalog, segregated by general geographic region and/or time period) reveals some interesting, but unsurprising, patterns. The most obvious pattern is that specific regions of the world currently undergoing conflict, instability, or just generally suffering from insufficient monitoring of the antiquities trade comprise the largest categories of artifacts for sale. For example, "Southeast Asia" as a whole produced 325 entries on the days I monitored the website, while 250 entries come from "South Asia," 193 entries derive from "Bactria" (read Afghanistan), 147 under "Pre-Islamic Iran" and 257 items under the very broad category of "Islamic Art." Rather high tallies under the categories of "New Kindom" and "Late Period" Egypt, "Neolithic" and "Shang-Han Dynasties" China, and "Mesopotamia" might be partially due to "accidental finds" entering the market after, say, a farmer, discovers small artifacts in his fields and sells them to a middleman. Some of them also derive from the decommissioning of old museum collections or auction house lots (Christie's, Sotheby's and Mossgreen Auctions being just three examples listed on catalog records), but certainly not all of them. Even if a particular artifact can be shown to have passed through a different auction house before it was offered for sale again through BC Galleries, this says nothing about the conditions under which that artifact initially arrived on the market.

Very importantly, no distinction whatsoever is provided to the website viewer/potential buyer to discern how and when an artifact entered BC Gallerie's possession. Granted, some of the artifacts in the larger categories, especially "Islamic Art," are ethnohistoric pieces dating (reportedly) from the 19th-20th centuries, but the diversity, and occasional rarity, of objects for sale, especially those small and easily transportable artifacts coming out of currently "hot" areas like Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, practically guarantees that recent loot is being sold. I suspect that there's no section of the catalog specifically labeled "Iraq" because, with so much attention focused on the high profile artifacts looted from new sites, old sites, and the National Museum of that country, the perceived risk was just too great. This is in opposition to the very small item counts for every other category, especially those archaeological cultures and countries in the Classical World for which the looting problem has been much more publicised and actively pursued, such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy. This is not to say that looting has been stamped out in those locations (far from it), nor that low tallies for a specific category (e.g. "Pre-Columbian") on the days I devoted to searching the website should be viewed as reflecting the permanent state of the market. Indeed, the dealers that supply the global antiquities trade would always have to contend with fluctuations in "product" availability.

Through whose hands are these artifacts passing before arriving at the warehouse? A perusal of those very few individual catalog entries with a previous source listed (no more than 2-3%, by my estimate), reveals a diversity of network contacts, some from decommissioned collections, and others from active dealers elsewhere. Some are based in Australia (e.g., East Australia Trading, Sydney; the Buttonshaw collection, Melbourne; the Whitbourne collection, Melbourne), and some come from overseas (e.g., the Howard Rose Gallery, New York City; the Dr. Giuliana Zanetti collection, Bologna, Italy; the Mohit Collection, out of an undisclosed location in India, and the "private" collection of one Virginia Williamson, out of New Hampshire, USA). The few other collections I found record of did not state any specific location or time period, especially pre-1970s, during which the collection was supposedly amassed. Perhaps this information is only available upon request? It seems more likely that its not offered because its not known. What is apparent, however, is that BC Galleries is one of the better connected wholesale dealers of looted antiquities in Australia today.

Most unfortunately, as suggested above, the vast majority of items for sale only give rough temporal and geographic information by way of "provenance," and the genuine antiquity of most looted artifacts for sale (whether recently 'surfaced', or brought to market many decades ago), is highlighted to reassure buyers' of authenticity. Many artifacts have their usewear, repair, soil accretions, 'verdigris patina,' or chipping emphasized as clear signs that the purchase is authentic. Not to mention the occasional item with thermo-luminescence (T-L) dating paperwork provided! I wonder if the T-L laboratory workers (at Oxford or the University of Wollongong by my observation) had any idea that the artifacts they dated for their clients were looted, and/or were soon to enter the global antiquities market?

Further insult to injury is added via another disturbing, but perhaps inevitable, phenomena that many international antiquities dealers (including BC Galleries) engage in; the use of published academic archaeological references to bolster their authenticity claims. For example, the thorough and relatively current textbook Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia, a c. 2002 overview of Southeast Asian prehistory, was consulted by the writer of the catalog entry for this clay bull figurine (with the atypical inclusion of iron horns). To an archaeologist, this is a characteristic artifact of the late Bronze Age archaeological sites on the Khorat Plateau, northeast Thailand, most commonly found as a grave good. The first such site to be discovered was the eponymous site of Ban Chiang, but several other contemporaneous sites in the vicinity are known to share artifact types and mortuary customs (thought of collectively as the "Ban Chiang Culture"), while even more sites remain to be found, or have already been lost to looting. What is the archaeological community to do? On the one hand, we must be responsible and ethical in publishing site reports and data in as timely a manner as possible. On the other, the last thing we hope to see is our work "used against us" to further the demand for and selling of genuine artifacts... A real catch-22...

I will close with a discussion of a specific photograph from the "new acquisitions" portion of BC Gallerie's catalog which serves as a great example of how the very unscrupulous antiquities trade can come "full circle." The photo (and see above left) is of a segment of a bronze spiral bangle, still containing a concreted section of the original grave fill soil and substantial pieces of the forearm of the person interred with it perhaps as much as 2,500 years ago! Although a "Dong Son" (northern Vietnamese Iron Age) affiliation is listed for it, I myself saw identical examples in central and southern Vietnam, and they have also been recovered from salvaged sites in Cambodia. According to the owner of a "souvenir" shop in Hoi An whom I spoke to when last there in January (documented in an earlier post), the most detailed provenance he could recall for a similar, but cleaned-up, bangle (one of many late prehistoric artifacts for sale, including bells and beads) was "from the My Son area." Most famous for its large complex of Chamic temples, the surrounding area was inhabited for centuries before that, but the late prehistory of Central and Southern Vietnam is very poorly known, meaning that there are undoubtedly many undiscovered domestic and cemetery sites from which artifacts can be accidentally or deliberately removed. As documented, small-ish items at that shop like bangles, small bells, rings etc. would sell for no more than $200USD...and only $650AUD will net you the gruesome "antiquity" in the photo above.

Torn from context, we'll never known exactly where this came from, nor anything about the person wearing it...and that's not even mentioning the ethics of having a section of someone's arm on your mantelpiece! In the 30+ years that BC Galleries has been operating, who knows how many other one-of-a-kind, or equally macabre, artifacts or "specimens" have passed through their doors? What seems clear, however, is that the big names in global antiquities dealing don't just come from the northern hemisphere. Constant vigilance remains a necessity everywhere.

This blog post was written by Damien Huffer and originally appeared on SAFECorner at

Vann Molyvann Project Going Strong
The Vann Molyvann Project continues to raise awareness and document the extraordinary, and threatened, collection of buildings by Cambodia’s most prominent architect of the 1960’s.

Below is a summary of their incredible work to date.
1.  Building Survey and Documentation
The VMP have now surveyed and drawn what they believe are Vann Molyvann’s six most important buildings.  The record the VMP are creating will ensure that if the demolitions continue—and that is the current trend—there will at least be a record available for future architects, students, scholars and the general public.   But there are still nine buildings left to deal with in the very busy period remaining through the end of September—when the VMP reach their deadlines for the production of materials to exhibit, publish and archive.
Recently completed surveys:
The State Palace (now the Cambodian Senate) was inaugurated in 1966.  In its original condition it was an open-air complex of terraces, walkways and sunken gardens sheltered under an folded and cantilevered concrete roof—the design of which allows for enormous clean spans and incorporate an ingenious double shell for ventilation above the enclosed areas.   The buildings were primarily used for state functions (read glamorous parties)—which took place on the large central terrace.  This terrace has now been walled in and contains the senate chambers—but in most respects the building is in fairly good shape.  Some drawings are below.

State Reception Hall Phnom PenhThe State Reception Halls, an early commission from 1962,  were used for small gatherings, visits by foreign dignitaries and performances of traditional dance and film.  The halls are an exquisite grouping of small buildings interconnected with terraces and reflecting ponds.
The 100 Houses project, completed in 1967 to house workers of the National Bank of Cambodia, is a collection of 100 identical houses on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.  The buildings are inspired by traditional Cambodian wood houses but rendered in refined modern detail.  Some are in an advanced state decay, others have been extensively modified or  replaced by oversized luxury villas—a few are reasonably well preserved.  One owner kindly provided access to  a very well maintained home.  The VMP also made their way into a partially collapsed house—sad to see but helpful as the VMP could get a good look at the structure.
Selected surveys completed:
The Institute of Foreign Languages:  Vann Molyvann’s last building before he fled.  A masterpiece that combines all the elements he developed over his long career. 
The National Sports Complex.  The single most important public space in Phnom  Penh.   This enormous complex shows a mastery of structure and scale—but it also works at the simplest of levels.  It is cool in the main arena, shaded areas abound, and it is intensively used by the public at all times of day.
Vann Molyvann’s House.  Elegant and simple in plan and section—complex and exquisite in detail.   No opportunity was left unexplored—a fantastic example of an architect left to his own devices.  The enthusiasm for detail recalls Paul Rudolph’s apartment in New York or the John Soane house in London.
In the works:
The VMP are currently surveying the Chaktomuk Conference Hall.  Completed in 1961, it was Vann Molyvann’s first major commission.  A fan shaped building with a folded concrete roof it is one of Phnom Penh’s most important landmarks.  Process images below
House for the Mother of Norodom Sirivuth, completed in the late 1950’s, is one of the few villas designed by Vann Molyvann in Phnom Penh.  Their field work is largely complete—some drafting work remains.
Coming up:
Capitol Cinema, Phnom Penh
Sangkum Reastr Niyum Exhibition Halls
House of Penn Nouth, Phnom Penh
Pasteur Institute,. Phnom  Penh
National Bank of Cambodia, Sihanoukville Branch
SKD Brewery, Sihanoukville
Church of St. Michel, Sihanoukville
2.  Advocacy
Raising awareness about the outstanding quality and cultural significance of these buildings, and the importance of their preservation, is central to their mission.   These buildings need to be known and talked about by scholars, architects, students and the general public around the world.   Their efforts to date on this front include:
·         A retrospective at the Phnom Penh French Cultural Center in late September.
·         An article for Perspecta, the Yale School of Architecture Journal.
·         Princeton Architectural Press has expressed interest in publishing a monograph.  Interviews with the Wall Street Journal, Dwell, Conde Nast and La Liberation.
·         Publication in the Phnom Penh Post and La Liberation
3.  How you can get involved
The VMP have been joined by several experienced architects and students form around the world.   All have donated their time, talents to come to Cambodia--the skill and dedication they brought has made this project possible.
Participants have included Kurt Evans, Juenan Wu, Kevin Blusewicz, Terri Lee, Nancy Nichols, Garret Wong, Yasemin Tarhan, Ryan Fitzgerald, Kyle Brooks, Maeve Staunton, Courtney Smith-Frank and Eric Robinson, Leakhena Setha, Yaroslavna Podolitaskaya.  Cambodian participants have included Yam Sokly, Yivchhoy Chhuong,  Veng Sopagna, Pen Serey Pagna, Bun Chan Dara and Yin Sotheara.
The VMP are now looking for people with the following skills to join us through the end of September:
Architects and architectural students with experience in site survey, drafting, building physical and computer models and exhibition design
Graphic Designers who can help us put together materials for publication and exhibition (much of this type of work can be done without coming to Cambodia)
Writers/researchers to help prepare materials for publication and exhibition
Architectural photographers—important for all aspects of their work.
For more information contact;
Bill Greaves
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Angkor Decline Maybe Due to Drought
James O'Toole of the Phnom Penh Post reported 31 March 2010;

Droughts and flooding may have been decisive factors in the mysterious collapse of the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor, according to a new study released this week.

In a paper published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers Brendan Buckley, Daniel Penny and their collaborators argue that climate variation strained the city’s complex and fragile infrastructure beyond repair, leaving it unable to support its population.

“The lack of textual records dating after the 13th century has created a historical [gap] and divergent, unresolved claims about the causes, rate and timing of Angkor’s decline and fall,” Buckley and his colleagues wrote. “Historians and archaeologists have, with a few notable exceptions, only rarely considered the role played by environment and climate in the history of Angkor.”

The researchers based their argument on an analysis of growth rings from cypress trees discovered in Vietnam that were almost 1,000 years old.

By looking at the varying widths of the growth rings, Buckley and his colleagues determined that Angkor was subject to two major droughts – one in the mid 1300s, and another in the early 1400s – that coincided with the period in which the Khmer imperial capital is believed to have begun an accelerated decline.

These droughts, which likely had a severe impact on Angkor’s agricultural productivity, were followed closely by unusually intense monsoon seasons that led to floods and damage to the system of canals and baray upon which residents depended for water management.

“What our study demonstrates ... is that decades of weakened summer monsoon rainfall, punctuated by abrupt and extreme wet episodes that likely brought severe flooding that damaged flood-control infrastructure, must now be considered an additional, important, and significant stressor occurring during a period of decline,” the researchers wrote.

Buckley said the research was part of a broader project looking at medieval droughts in Asia, and described his recognition of its relevance to Angkorean history as “one of these serendipitous kinds of things”. It was only when he was dating the tree rings, he said, that he realised they bore such a close relation to the period of Angkor’s decline.

Research in Siem Reap was conducted in part by scientists from the Greater Angkor Project (GAP), a research group run out of the University of Sydney. GAP deputy director Dougald O’Reilly said the study built on the insight of French archaeologist Bernard-Philippe Groslier, who argued in 1979 that the famed Angkorean canals were part of a hydraulic system that was not in place simply for religious reasons.

The new study, O’Reilly added, lends depth and context to the emerging understanding among archaeologists that Angkor’s demise was more complicated than traditional theories have suggested. In the past, scholars have ascribed the decline to conflict with the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya and the flight of the empire’s elite to what is now Phnom Penh.

“The work that Buckley and Penny and [their collaborators] have done is really another piece of the puzzle that shows us that the decline of Angkor was a much more nuanced situation,” O’Reilly said.

Though Buckley was careful to note that a number of factors were likely involved in Angkor’s ultimate failure, he said the city may have been undone in part by its own feats of engineering.

“It just may have been ... [that] they weren’t able to cope with the vulnerability that they had because their system was so immovable,” Buckley said. “They didn’t have the ability to adapt very nimbly to these sorts of changes in their environment.”

With changing sea and river levels an issue of concern today in Southeast Asia, Buckley said, the importance adaptability in the face of a changing climate is a lesson that might be drawn from Angkor’s experience.

“Nature’s still dominant, and we don’t really control it like we’d like to,” he said. “The question is, how able are you and how nimble are you in adapting and adjusting to it, and that’s going to be the critical issue.”

Original story at
Angkor Ticket Sales Increase
May Kunmakara of the Phnom Penh Post reported on Tuesday, 30 March 2010  "a climb in quarterly ticket revenue for tickets to the Angkor temples reflected a slight recovery for a tourism sector hurt by global and regional uncertainty, officials said Monday.

Ticket sales grew 20 percent for the first quarter of 2010 compared to the same period last year, according to figures from Apsara Authority, the agency that manages the temples.

The new figures marked a recovery from 2009 sales, which had dropped 10 percent from levels in 2008, at the onset of the economic downturn.

“We’ve seen a recovery in the whole sector for several months this year, allowing our revenues to increase around 20 percent so far,” Apsara Director General Bun Narith told the Post. “However, last year the impact of the global crisis, the [H1N1] outbreak, as well as political turmoil in Thailand, all impacted the drop in foreign visitors to the Angkor Wat temples.”

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the sales figures reflected the sector’s overall recovery. Revenue declined on the back of a 5 percent fall in foreign visitors to Siem Reap in 2009, he said.

“But I see that in recent months this year, foreign tourists increased around 25 percent [in Siem Reap], which would contribute to the increase of ticket sales revenue,” he said.

The government allows more than 5,000 foreign delegates to visit the temples for free each year, he said.

Last year, the revenue from ticket sales dropped to around US$27 million from nearly $30 million the year before, he added. Cambodia saw revenue of $32 million in 2007.

Although revenue is down, tourist arrivals grew slightly in 2009, up 1.7 percent from 2008, according to the ministry. January arrivals were up 6.36 percent from the same month last year.

Bun Narith said political unrest in Thailand and the military standoff on the Thai border were no longer hurting Cambodia’s tourism sector.

“Now our tourism gateway is changing destinations, from the usual Thailand to Vietnam,” he said. “We saw tourists in the region increasing a lot last year”, especially from China, Singapore, and South Korea, as well as Europe and the United States, he said.

About 5,000 people now visit Angkor Wat every day, he said, with foreign visitors using a weeklong pass over the course of one month, instead of seven days in a row.

“I don’t dare say what percentage we will take this year, but it will be quite a bit better than last year, because the crisis is over,” said Bun Narith."

Original story @

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"...the most effective measure now would be to sign more bilateral agreements with countries that are under assault from the antiquities trade..." - Roger Atwood.

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