Thursday, September 11, 2008

U.S., Cambodia Continue To Preserve Ancient Artifacts

By Rachael Brugger and Soy Sophea

The U.S. Embassy showed its continuing support of Cambodia’s preservation of ancient culture in a ceremony that took place Aug. 18 at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

While the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli and Secretary of State from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts Chuch Phoeurn extended an agreement made in 2003 to prevent the illegal deportation of artifacts into the U.S. and expanded the document to include artifacts from the Bronze Age to the Khmer era, they also discussed the U.S. Embassy’s donation of US $45,000 to aid in preservation of the National Museum’s library.

“It is so important for the National Museum’s library and the renewal of the memorandum of understanding in 2003,” Phoeurn said.

Hab Touch, director of the National Museum, said the library needs work in order to preserve the books properly. Touch considered the donation from the U.S. Embassy as a means to enhance the library and make the collection—which includes books on Cambodian arts, culture, performance, temples and artifacts as well as French works from during the colonial era—more useful for readers, researchers and scholars.

“It is an interesting small collection, with things not available anywhere else in town,” said Margaret Bywater, program director of the museum’s library project.

She said the money will go toward the reorganizing the library with an international standard library database, as well as in improving its access and preservation through the installation of new shelving and staff training. The project should take 18 to 24 months to complete.

“It’s one of the few funds of money that we have where the U.S. Embassy gets more of a say in what we do with the money rather than having to go through the huge bureaucracy back in Washington, and we get select those small matters that we think we can make a big contribution to,” said Mussomeli.

The document signed by Mussomeli and Phoeurn during Monday’s events, will continue the agreement between the U.S. and Cambodia to provide protection for Cambodia’s treasured artifacts. It specifically restricts U.S. importation of ancient Cambodian stone, metal and ceramic archaeological material unless an export permit is issued by Cambodia or there is verifiable documentation that the objects left Cambodia prior to the effective date of the restriction, according to a U.S. Embassy statement.

Cambodia is the first East Asian country to receive the U.S.’s support in the protection of cultural property in this manner.

“Cambodia looks toward the future, but has to continue to be rooted in the past, or we will get lost in the future and forget about the past,” Mussomeli said. “So we’re happy and honored to be able to help Cambodia preserve its past even as it builds its future.”

Also this year, the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation provided the World Monuments Fund with nearly one million US dollars for the continued preservation and conservation of Phnom Bakheng Temple that is located within the Angkor Archaeological Zone, according a press statement of U.S. Embassy on June 4. This is part of more than US $866,000 the U.S. government has given to cultural preservation projects in Cambodia over the past several years.

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