Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who Are the Women Carved Into Angkor Wat?

This is a fascinating article about how one man, not a professional archaeologist or historian, started asking questions and kept asking them and seeking answers - eventually assembling a team of various scholars dedicated to solving the same mystery.

From The Independent
The 12th-century facebook of Angkor Wat
Monday, 6 September 2010

Identities of the mysterious women carved into the Cambodian temple could finally be revealed. Andrew Buncombe reports

ALAMY.  Exquisitely stone-carved Asparas dancers at the
Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat.  A closer examination of the
dancers in this image revealsdifferent body types, a  range
of ages (from young to mature) and the headdresses are
not identical.   Also note that the body positions of each of
the dancers is slightly different.  
Amid the splendour of the 12th-century temple at Angkor Wat, they stand and stare like silent sentinels, sensuous rather than erotic, carved with elegance and care. But exactly who are these 1,786 mysterious women and why, more than a century after Cambodia's famed Hindu temple was rediscovered byWestern archaeologists, did it take the efforts of an amateur researcher from Florida to push experts into trying to resolve the puzzle?

Though Kent Davis had lived in South-east Asia during the 1990s, he did not have an opportunity to see Angkor Wat until 2005. Like most visitors to the huge complex in the centre of the Cambodia, for many years cut off from the outside world because of the presence of theKhmer Rouge, he was mesmerised by the experience.

But he was also left with a flurry of questions. "I went to Angkor as a tourist and I was startled when I got there to notice these women," said Mr Davis, 54, a publisher and writer who now lives near Tampa, Florida. "I was not prepared for it. The human element of them struck me and I wanted to know who they were. I asked one of the guides and he said they were there to serve the king after he went to heaven."

Mr Davis's interest was tweaked, so he wanted to know more. He vowed he would return to the US and investigate. Yet when he got home he found there was essentially nothing written about these women, who appear throughout the temple complex in full body carvings.

Indeed, the only study of the female carvings he could find had been made in the early 20th century by the daughter of Frenchman Henri Marchal, then the curator of the temple site. Frustrated but intrigued, he decided he would find out for himself. Five years and several trips to Angkor later, Mr Davis has slowly begun to get some answers.

Rest of article.

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