Last summer, a huge treasure of Cambodian royal Angkor jewelry was discovered in London, some of which date back to the 7th century.
The stolen items belonged to British antiques smuggler Douglas Latchford. Experts say they have never seen most of the jewels before and are stunned by their existence. The collection has been secretly returned to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and is to be displayed in the country’s national museum, writes BBC News.
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Latchford died in 2020 while awaiting a US trial. His family promised to return the stolen collection to Cambodia after his death, but the authorities did not know what exactly would be transferred and how this would happen.
Brad Gordon, head of the Cambodia investigation team, became the first person from the country to see the jewels when he visited London last summer. He said: “A representative of the Latchford family took me to an unknown location. There was a car in the parking lot with four boxes inside. I wanted to cry. I just thought – wow – the royal jewels of the ancient Cambodian civilization are packed in four boxes in the back seat of the car.”
When they were unpacked, it turned out that the collection contained 77 gold and jewel-encrusted pieces of jewelry, including crowns, belts and earrings. The large bowl dates from the 11th century, and although it has yet to be explored, it appears to be made of pure gold. According to experts, it may have been used as a rice bowl for the royals of Angkor.
Researchers believe that one of the crowns comes from the pre-Angkor period. Craftsmen could make it around the 7th century. Other objects, in particular a small carved flower, are real mysteries. Experts do not yet know how it was used.
It is still unclear how and when the jewels were stolen and how they got to London. Many of them are comparable to the stone carvings on the walls of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Archaeologist Sonetra Seng has studied Angkorian jewelry for years, examining carvings in temples. She shares: “The jewelry proves what was on the carving, and what was rumored is really true. Cambodia was very, very rich in the past. And yet I can’t believe it, especially that it’s from one collection found abroad.