Ancient gems dug up in Chumphon

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Ancient gems dug up in Chumphon

Post by buksida » 08 Dec 2012 09:00

The discovery of ancient beads and artifacts in Khao Sam Kaeo of Chumphon's Muang district has opened up a treasure trove of immense historical and tangible value, and has also triggered a "bead rush".

However, this bead rush has raised serious concerns over the protection of these antiquities.

One of the stunning discoveries took place in March this year when a sizeable piece of metal about half a metre in diameter was found during a sand-dredging operation in the Tha Ta Pao canal close to Khao Sam Kaeo.

The crew of a dredging barge had stumbled on an ancient metal disc which was stuck in the sand dredger.

The crew later sold the metal item to an antique trader. Fine Arts Department officials came across the disc and recognised its value. The department then bought the disc and examined it more closely.

According to archaeologists, the disc is part of an ancient bronze drum typical of the Dong Son cultural artifacts found in the north of Vietnam. The culture thrived more than 2,000 years ago.

The ancient drum discovery is hugely important, said Wirot Promthongsri, chief of the ancient artifact conservation group under the 14th Regional Office of Fine Arts in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

It shows that Khao Sam Kaeo was once a prosperous community, having trade links with other civilised cultures in the region, he added.

It was the fourth ancient drum discovered in Khao Sam Kaeo, and the object is now on display at the Chumphon National Museum.

Then, in August, came a stunning news report that Chusak Chuaybamroong, 48, and his wife Wanpen, 43, who live in tambon Wang Ta Kor of Chumphon's Lang Suan district, possess tens of thousands of ancient beads and other artifacts.

The couple run a construction contracting business.

They found the beads in Khao Sek, a hillside location with geography similar to Khao Sam Kaeo.

Mr Chusak said he and his wife have been avid collectors of ancient beads and other antiquities for more than 10 years, and some of the prized items were found buried in their own five-rai backyard.

Theerapon Somsri, an assistant chief of Chumphon National Museum, said many of the beads owned by the couple are in perfect condition.

The beads include those studded with precious and semi-precious stones, rock crystal, quartz, amethyst, citrine, aquamarine, garnet, carnelian, agate and golden materials, and they are kept in the couple's home.

Berenice Bellina-Pryce, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, said Khao Sam Kaeo was once a production base for beads.

The beads are of high quality as evidenced by the durability of the materials they are made from and the techniques used to cut them, she said.

Archaeology lecturer at Silpakorn University Pra-orn Silaphan said Khao Sam Kaeo is an archaeological site with a history dating back more than 2,000 years.

The area sits on a narrow strip of land straddled by the eastern coast and the Tha Ta Pao River to the west, she explained.

She said Khao Sam Kaeo may have been the ancient version of a "land bridge" connecting the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea.

Khao Sam Kaeo had easy contact with outsiders through the trade link, Ms Pra-orn said.

The area could have been a significant route for trade between the East and West, as historical artifacts from other Southeast Asian civilisation have also been discovered there, she said.

The artifacts, Ms Pra-orn said, include the Dong Son bronze drums from Vietnam, stone ornaments from Vietnam's San Huynh culture, imprinted stamps with Indian scripts, along with fragments of pottery from India and from China during the Han dynasty.

During the prehistoric age, people on Taiwan island, the Philippines, Borneo, Vietnam and Thailand produced beads and traded them, a seminar entitled "100 Years - Discovery and Research of San Huynh Culture" in Vietnam's Quang Ngai in 2009 was told.

According to historian Bancha Phongpanich, the forum drew several leading archaeologists, including Ms Bellina-Pryce and Hsiao-chun Hung, a jade expert from Taiwan.

The forum speakers pointed out that all ancient beads and artifacts are historically valuable, and that locals should be proud of the findings.

But some of the beads have been plundered and sold overseas, the forum heard.

Theerapon Somsri, assistant director of the Chumphon National Museum, expressed concern over ancient beads and artifacts in historic locations being unearthed, saying state agencies appear powerless to prevent them from being stolen.

The theft and looting carries on despite the fact that the law stipulates clearly that every ancient artifact, no matter where it is found, is state property. The Fine Arts Department can either buy or seize them, Mr Theerapon said.

"The demand for beads and antique artifacts from various sources has soared," Mr Theerapon said, adding that small beads could fetch up to 5,000 baht apiece.

He said bead buyers normally come from Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. They sell the items in Bangkok's antique markets such as Tha Phra Chan.

Illegal digging for ancient beads is rampant during the rainy season when the rain water washes away the topsoil, exposing the beads, Mr Theerapon said.

State agencies face difficulty pinpointing the sources of the beads because many locations are on private land, he said. Some landowners in Khao Sam Kaeo are known to charge people 40 baht a day to dig on their land for the beads.

Chumphon National Museum has brought the problem to the attention of the provincial governor, but there is not much the authorities can do because the digging is carried out on private land.

Khao Sam Kaeo's beads are also attractive to foreign collectors because of their exotic colours and appearance. Some beads similar to those retrieved in Chumphon have been found in Taiwan.

"The price varies depending on the physical features and type of bead," Surasak Intharaprasit, a bead prospector, said.

"A striped ball bead costs at least 3,000 baht each. The beautiful ones can cost 5,000 baht apiece," he said.

Mr Surasak said he had dug up almost 200 beads in Chumphon in the past two months.

"Digging for beads is better than doing construction work. Bead prospecting is the same as searching for gold. It is a matter of luck," he said.

Meanwhile, the bead excavations have also led to rampant encroachment on private land.

Boonchoke Maneechote, who owns land close to Khao Sek, complained that people often entered his property illegally to search for beads.

Despite lodging several police complaints and setting up a warning signing against trespassers, the digging still goes on, he said.

Mr Boonchoke said he finally decided to grow rubber trees in the area people who came and destroyed the trees while searching for beads could be arrested.

Source: BKK Post

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