Workers digging at the site of a new water pumping station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, have discovered a massive stone lion. A crew from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) was digging near the Wat Phnom temple when they came across the ancient statue lying on its back 13 feet below street level. It measures more than eight feet in height and was found broken in two parts.
The lion appears similar in design to the massive statues that guard the main pagoda and main stupa of the Wat Phnom temple. The temple lions are not as massive as this one, however. Hab Touch, director-general for tangible heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, speculates that the newly discovered lion was part of a different structure at the site, something large like a bridge. It could also have originated elsewhere and been moved to the location later.
National Museum director Chhay Visoth told The Post that he cannot make any assumptions about which era the stone lion was made in because experts needed time to check the composition of the ancient stone.
“Normally, we can know the date of an artefact by identifying other things around it,” he said.
Viosth said it’s suspected that the lion was created at the same time as Wat Phnom or sometime after Cambodia was a French protectorate.
That’s a rather elastic range. Wat Phnom was built in 1372. Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863. The sculpture is now being studied by experts at the Ministry of Culture. They might be able to determine its possible age with a tad more precision, but with no contextual clues from an archaeological excavation, it will be difficult to confirm.