US to return 900-year-old ancient artefact to Thailand

- Photos: The Nation File

BANGKOK: The Art Institute of Chicago in the United States has expressed its intention to return a 900-year-old artefact believed to have been illegally taken from ruins of Prasat Phanom Rung in the northeastern province of Buri Ram in 1965, the Fine Arts Department announced on Tuesday (June 18).

The artefact, officially called ‘fragment of a pilaster with Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana’, is part of the decorative pieces on the left side of the door frame of Prasat Phanom Rung’s eastern mandapa (square hall), Phnombootra Chadrajoti, the department’s director-general, said.

He added that the piece is believed to have been smuggled out of Thailand in 1965, before the department started its restoration project on Prasat Phanom Rung, a Hindu Khmer Empire temple complex built of sandstone and laterite between the 10th and 13th centuries, which is the main structure of the Phanom Rung Historical Park.

Phnombootra said that Dr Nicolas Revire, the institute’s specialist in Southeast Asian art and archaeology, had earlier visited the ruins in the historical park. He had reportedly found evidence that confirmed the pilaster’s fragment, which was donated to the institute in 1966, came from the ruins in Buri Ram.

The Art Institute of Chicago was concerned that the artefact from Thailand could have been obtained illegally, so it wished to return it to the Thai government, said Phnombootra.

The institute’s board of trustees has delisted the artefact from its registry on June 11, and has coordinated with the Fine Arts Department to arrange for the return, he added.

Culture Minister Sudawan Wangsupakitkosol has said that although the artefact is not on the list of Thai ancient artefacts overseas, the proposal to return it to Thailand by the Chicago institute is a positive development.

“It is commendable that Thailand will regain this significant artifact, which will help complete missing parts of the archaeological site and enhance its integrity,” she said.

“On behalf of the Culture Ministry of Thailand, we express our admiration and gratitude to the Art Institute of Chicago for their ethics and efforts in fostering a positive relationship between the United States and Thailand, with a focus on combating illegal trafficking of ancient artefacts," said Sudawan.

According to the Fine Arts Department, the fragment of a pilaster with Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana was made of sandstone, is 95 cm. tall, 30.4 cm. wide, and 19.3 cm. thick. It is estimated to be around 900 years old. - The Nation/ANN

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