Precious Cambodian Angkorian crown jewelry reappeared in London last summer, after the passing of known antiquities smuggler Douglas Latchford.
Mr. Latchford passed away in 2020 while waiting for his trial in the US. His family promised to return the jewelry to Cambodia, but experts were unsure when or how that would happen.
Brad Gordon, the head of Cambodia’s investigative team, was the first representative from the country to see the jewelry when he visited London last summer.
He said, “I was driven to an undisclosed car park to collect the jewelry.” Upon seeing it, he nearly cried and just thought, “Wow—Cambodia’s crown jewels packed into four boxes in the back of a car.”
After being unwrapped, the containers revealed 77 pieces of gold and jewel-encrusted jewelry including belts, earrings, and crowns. A large bowl most likely made of pure gold is believed to date back to the 11th century, although it is yet to be tested.
One of the crowns appears to be from the pre-Angkorian period, experts believe, and could have been made by artisans in the 7th century, the BBC reports.
Many of the items can be matched to stone carvings on the walls of Angkor Wat, the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The jewelry proves what was on the carvings and what was rumored is really true; Cambodia was really, really rich in the past,” says archeologist Sonetra Song, who studied Angkorian jewelry for years by examining the temple’s carvings.
Cambodian authorities believe that more Angkorian jewels are yet to be found.
For now, the collection will be returned to Cambodia and it will be welcomed by the country’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, along with Cambodian citizens who would like to see the looted jewelry transferred from inside dusty boxes and go on public display.
The return of the looted jewelry comes at perfect timing as Cambodia prepares to host the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in May.