Campaign to help kids protect Cambodia’s heritage

5 June 2015

ANU archaeologist Dr Dougald O'Reilly is leading an education campaign to stop the looting of Cambodia's prehistoric archaeological sites.

The campaign, Heritage for Kids, is being run by non-profit organisation Heritage Watch, which Dr O'Reilly founded 12 years ago.

A Kickstarter campaign to fund the children's education program against looting has already met its modest funding goal of $10,500, but Dr O'Reilly said that additional donations are welcome to help with the continued success of the program.

"The idea behind the Heritage for Kids education program is to design a curriculum module that can be inserted into the regular curriculum of the Cambodian school system," said Dr O'Reilly.

"Looting is a huge problem, especially prehistoric sites. We've done a lot of different projects to try and slow down the destruction, and this is another part of our overall campaign to try to raise awareness about the issue."

The education program includes materials such as the Wrath of the Phantom Army comic book which was published last year.

Dr O'Reilly said he hoped the education program could eventually become self-sustaining, although it would need funds to help with printing and distribution of material. Heritage Watch is run mostly by volunteers.

If the looting can't be stopped, Dr O'Reilly said the world would lose the ability to understand the history and development of Southeast Asia.

"For an archaeologist, it's a disaster," he said.

"From a scientific and academic perspective, it's a serious blow for us in understanding the development of those cultures, and it's this low-grade village level looting that's causing the loss of information about where Angkor came from."

Looting of prehistoric sites in Cambodia is a phenomenon that began in 1999 when prehistoric remains were discovered during the construction of a major highway.

"While the road was being built, people realised these sites contained valuable items like agate beads, weapons, iron, and bronze objects," said Dr O'Reilly. 

"People started to dig up these sites and found they could sell these objects locally, and to Thai buyers from across the border," he said. "Then word spread to other villages and it really just snowballed."

The Kickstarter campaign finishes on 13 June. To find out more and contribute visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/164208000/heritage-for-kids.