Ankgor Wat – the Archeology and the Feelings

The final day of Temple Tours was upon me this morning at 430am. I had decided to get out to Angkor Wat temple then to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, the weather had clouded up a bit so the sunrise was not so glorious. But lets face it folks. If you can choose a place to be and one of them is standing next to Angkor Wat at 5am, that is pretty damned cool!

I spent another 2 hours exploring the temple. Its an excellent and unique place but its not the best. I think Bayon Temple is the best with its unique carvings and foot trails to see the different sights. Its also under active restoration so you end up seeing efforts to stabilize the temple walls, the higher levels, and even the ground structures. I think it gives a good idea about how active archeological preservation is with historic monumental architecture.

When I did archeology, it was prehistoric sites in the desert and mountains and southern plains and a dash of the Great Basin. These sites were completely different so restoration and protection was too. But some things remain constant at least to me. One is the work cannot impact the site more than natural forces. You cannot allow the restoration work to make the site appear different than what it was naturally intended. This takes more money and resources and talent. You need to measure and do science and ensure that the site’s material remains are correctly recorded and that perhaps the hardest thing is the thought and philosophy of the site. You cannot intrude on what the makers thought! When we protected rock art sites in the western Mojave desert it was not enough to simply cordon off an area and say “no entry”. The entry may have been a problem but the other problems were combinations of natural and social forces that would act on the site in a negative way. It always comes down to the twin forces of nature. Erosion and deposition. They are the hammers of life. Its not whether some force says protect them. It’s those forces folks. They act in so many ways to protect and damage the things of value.

So seeing the sites today and their protections by Chinese and Indian agencies under the watchful eye of UNESCO made me feel good. But never imagine that a site protected today is protected a decade from now or even next year. Budgets and people and feelings change. If I diverge for a moment to our current political environment, we have a president who denies climate change but asks about the weather. Probably the greatest deleterious impact to our natural and cultural resources and revenue is Trump. He simply seems dolefully ignorant of how a thing can affect other things. Our precious natural and cultural resources could be hampered or destroyed because Trump does not understand how climate change, not weather change, will negatively impact us, our cultures, our environments, and our natural and cultural resources.

It’s sad really. But its what we have. Nothing waits perennially for change. Cultural resources like Angkor Wat and natural resources like the Colorado River all require our protection. All of these things form a delicate balancing act between what we were, what we are, and what we shall become.

And in the final analysis, when you see Angkor Wat at sunrise or Chaco Canyon or the Grand Canyon or a myriad of other places, remember the none of these could be protected much longer. Do you want your legacy to see these things?

Visit the temples at Angkor Wat because they’re there and they may silently call you. A message across time and space. A whisper across the eons. Its the connection between the you now and the you to come. Don’t ignore it. It’s at your peril.