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Friday July 19, 2024

Thailand hunts for missing ancient site treasures

By AFP
September 19, 2023

SI THEP, Thailand: Under the scorching sun, Thai archaeologist Tanachaya Tiandee clambers through ruined pagodas in the ancient town of Si Thep, trying to unlock their mysteries -- a task made harder because parts of the puzzle are missing thanks to decades of looting.

Thailand has a rich collection of historical sites, but foreign looting has stripped many of them, leaving the country scrambling to repatriate its stolen cultural wealth. “The big picture like the building was discovered, but the artefacts which tell little details are missing, making a lot of stories untold about Si Thep,” Tanachaya told AFP.

“It´s like a piece of puzzle was missing,” she said. The 400-hectare complex, which archaeologists date back to between 1,500 to 1,700 years ago, may be inscribed in Unesco´s cultural world heritage list this week -- Thailand´s first addition since 1992.

As 33-year-old Tanachaya carefully excavates the ancient stone constructions, she faces a difficult task piecing together the stories of Si Thep, which lies around 200-km north of Bangkok. It is believed that over the years, at least 20 objects have been stolen from the site, with experts identifying 11 in museums in the United States. The real number of looted objects is suspected to be far higher, thanks to a lack of documentation.