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Historic Repatriation: Cambodian Artifacts Returned from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

Phnom Penh, July 4, 2024 – A collection of fourteen Cambodian cultural artifacts, announced in December 2023 for repatriation, have safely arrived at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on July 3, according to a press release from the Ministry of Culture.

The return of these national treasures marks a significant milestone following years of diligent negotiations involving the Cambodian restitution team, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Homeland Security Investigations, and representatives from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), one of the largest cultural institutions in the world.

Among the notable pieces returned is an exquisite stone sculpture of a 10th-century female goddess, Uma, originally from the ancient royal capital of Koh Ker. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts located the sculpture's foot in 2021 at the Koh Ker temple complex and confirmed that the body had been looted in 1997. This reunion allows the Uma to be displayed in its complete and original splendor.

Also returned is a rare and masterfully crafted late 10th to early 11th-century bronze sculpture of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, known as "Seated in Royal Ease," which was acquired by the MET in 1992 from Douglas A.J. Latchford, a dealer later described by the museum as nefarious. Additionally, a 10th-century bronze head of the deity Avalokiteshvara has been returned, highly anticipated to be reunited with its torso, which was discovered in the 1930s in a river in Battambang and is currently displayed at the National Museum.

This event not only celebrates the return of invaluable cultural heritage but also reinforces the global commitment to preserving and respecting historical artifacts.

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