Missing head of Deva statue found at Angkor Thom

The long-lost head of a Deva statue from the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom has been discovered in a pit at the statue’s feet. Archaeologists from Cambodia’s national heritage authority APSARA unearthed the head in an excavation of the Victory Gate, where the body it was once attached to, the 23rd Deva, still stands guard along with 53 of its colleagues. The head is in comparatively good condition, considering its decapitation and burial. It is only missing its nose and its upper lip.

Established by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–1218) in the late 12th century, Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer Empire. Jayavarman built 26-foot high walls surrounding the city with a wide moat around the perimeter. The walled city was entered and exited via five monumental gates, one at each of the cardinal directions, plus a fifth one, the Victory Gate, at the northeast. The extra gate was built to accommodate a pre-existing road that connected the Royal Palace to the East Baray (a man-made water reservoir built around 900 A.D.).

Visitors to the city crossed a causeway over the moat as they approached the gate. The causeway was flanked on both sides with statues of 54 devas and 54 demons, a reference to a Hindu myth of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk in which the opposing powers — gods and demons — worked together to make amrita, the nectar of life that would grant them immortality.

The current excavation at Victory Gate is the assessment phase of a larger restoration project to ensure the long-term stability of

Further excavation revealed that the foundations of the balustrades at the Victory Gate are still strong, as they had been repaired during the post-Angkor and French periods. However, stakeholders have suggested additional digging to assess the overall condition of the bridge and the previous repairs before planning future restoration work on the balustrade statues.

The discovery of the Deva statue head adds to the rich archaeological heritage of Angkor Thom and provides valuable insights into the history and craftsmanship of the ancient Khmer civilization.

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