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Illustrated Report of the Angkor Workshop 2010

20. Dez. 2011

"Archaeologising" Heritage? Local Social Practice vs. Global Virtual Reality" was the topic of a workshop held from May 2 to 4, 2010. Experts from all around the globe discussed the historical implications and contemporary challenges of "Archaeological Heritage". In the focus of discussion was the UNESCO World Heritage site "Archaeological Park of Angkor" in Cambodia, along with other case-studies from Myanmar, India, Nepal, and Afghanistan. The workshop was organised by Dr. Michael Falser and Dr. Michael Winckler at the Karl Jaspers Centre in Heidelberg.

The 1st International Workshop on Heritage and Angkor

The workshop was divided into four panels: “The Making of Archaeological Heritage”, “Social Aspects of Archaeological Heritage”, “The Virtualisation of Archaeological Heritage”, and “Stakeholders of Archaeological Heritage”. It started with a lecture by the British stone conservation consultant Simon Warrack (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) on “Living Heritage in Archaeology. The Conservation of the Statue of Ta Reach at Angkor Wat”, the world’s largest religious stone monument dating from the 12th century AD. Warrack presented an interesting film he had produced himself on site during the ongoing conservation on this statue.

The Making of Archaeological Heritage

In the first panel, Indra Sengupta (PhD, German Historical Institute London) presented her paper “Guarding India’s past: Principles and Practice of Monument Conservation in Colonial India” and discussed how Western Universalist ideas of guardianship and conservation were implemented in India as part of a colonial civilising mission. The paper of Michael Falser, “Colonial gaze and tourist guide – The making of the ‘Archaeological Park of Angkor’ in the French Protectorate of Cambodia”, focused on how the temples of Angkor were not only bound to become a (dead) archaeological icon of the French-colonial mission civilisatrice, but also a major pleasure destination for the fast-growing transcontinental tourist industry.

The presentation of curator Pierre Baptiste (Musée Guimet, Paris) dealt with “Virtual visions of Angkor: plaster casts and drawings in the Indochinese Museum of Trocadero”, which was initiated by Louis Delaporte in 1878 for the Paris World Fair. “Imaging archaeological heritage: Angkor in photography” was the title of the presentation by Jaroslav Poncar (University of Applied Sciences, Cologne). Even if the photographic history of Angkor started with Scott John Thompson in 1866 and continued into the late 1920s, when the École Française d’Extrême-Orient documented Angkor Vat in 600 large-scale photographs, the imaging of this large-scale Khmer temple heritage remained a major challenge for the West. Similar to translation modes like interpretive drawings or mouldings, this new exact technology of photography completely changed the perception of Angkor, especially when Poncar applied a new „slit-scan camera“-technology, depicting the entire bas-reliefs of Angkor Vat – right before the digital photography available was introduced to the masses.

Pierre Baptiste during his talk about “Virtual Visions of Angkor”
Pierre Baptiste during his talk about “Virtual Visions of Angkor”

Social Aspects of Archaeological Heritage

The second panel, chaired by Thomas Meier (Heidelberg), focused on politics and rituals with regard to supposed archaeological sites. Niels Gutschow (Heidelberg) presented his paper “Worship requires beautification, not conservation!” and used the case-studies of the archaeological area of Bagan in Myanmar and religious sites in Patan, Nepal. Bagan was never exploited by the colonial power in the way Angkor was, but since 1989 the military government emptied it of its population, archaeologically embellished it, and donated reconstructions in order to construct a national identity. Axel Michaels (Heidelberg) focused on “Heritage politics at the Pashupatinatha Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal”. Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin (Göttingen University) talked about “The political implications of archaeological research in the case of Preah Vihear World Heritage Site, Cambodia”. Thailand and Cambodia came close to a military confrontation when the archaeological site of the Khmer temple of Preah Vihear was nominated to be an UNESCO World Heritage. However, the conflict has deeper roots: Since the beginning of French rule in Cambodia, the Khmer archaeological remains of Angkor played a crucial role in the negotiations for territories. For instance, Siam and Preah Vihear were instrumentalized as outposts of an idealized and homogenized “ancient Cambodia”, where disciplines such as archaeology, history and philology played a key role in legitimising colonial political claims.

Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin of Göttingen University
Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin of Göttingen University

The Virtualisation of Archaeological Heritage

The third panel changed the approach to archaeological heritage from a historical and social perspective to scientific computing and building research. For the section “The Image and the Model”, the paper of Hans Bock (Heidelberg) titled “Virtual Angkor Vat – scientific computing methods for the preservation of the cultural heritage in the Angkor region” introduced methods of risk analysis, documentation, presentation and eventual heritage conservation through scientific computing. In his report on “Reality-based virtual models – their generation, dissemination and use”, Armin Grün (ETH Zurich) gave an overview of the technological tools to locate, excavate, record, document, analyse, and reconstruct objects of interest both for scientific research and the growing public market for 3D virtual environments. For the section “The Structure and the Model”, Pheakdey Nguonphan (PhD, Heidelberg) introduced his “The Angkor Temple Generator”, in which he tried to apply a detailed formal analysis of decorative patterns, like the lotus flower on the Angkor temples as an overall structuring rule for new module-based computer reconstruction methods. Olivier Cunin (PhD, National Architecture School of Nancy) reviewed the 3D laser scanning recently carried out on Angkor temples, in order to produce new architectural surveys related to specific conservation work. Michael Jansen and Georgios Toubekis (RWTH Aachen) discussed “Virtual realities for a physical reconstruction?” and preservation options of the existing physical material of cultural heritage sites in developing and post-conflict countries with the case-study on the giant Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan (dynamited by the Taliban in 2001).

Simon Warrack and Niels Gutschow during coffee break
Simon Warrack and Niels Gutschow during coffee break

The Stakeholders of Archaeological Heritage

In the fourth panel, Michael Winckler (IWR Heidelberg) opened the sub-session “The Tourist as Stakeholder” and discussed the “Simulation of tourist flows and low-budget air surveys as planning aids at heritage sites”. He introduced a research tool for the behaviour of living beings (from animals to humans) in spatial environments like heritage sites. The paper “Angkor: Preserving World Heritage & the Role of Interpretation” of Jane Clark Chermayeff (Jane Clark Chermayeff & Associates LLC, New York) discussed a comprehensive approach to site interpretation as a fundamental component of management decision-making and preservation. It was included in the newly installed Site Interpretation Committee of the local APSARA authority. For the second sub-session about “The Local Stakeholders” of archaeological sites, the presentation “Local heritage and the museum: Modes of archaeological display in Angkor/Siem Reap” by Ly Vanna (Angkor Museum of the APSARA Authority) counterpoised old-fashioned display-modes of archaeological heritage (in this case the so-called ‘civilization of Angkor’) of oral narration, textual and graphical description, computer-aided simulation, and museum exhibition with a new approach of looking at Angkor Park as a living museum with its appropriate social and cultural context. Fabienne Luco (EHESS Paris) closed the last panel with her presentation “The Angkorian palimpsest: Housing, agriculture, and religious practices of villagers living on ancient traces”.

Hans Bock, Armin Grün and Michael Winckler during the break
Hans Bock, Armin Grün and Michael Winckler during the break

Methodological Shifts

During the two-day workshop, interesting parallel methodological shifts both in the humanities (anthropology, ethnology, art history, archaeology, conservation) and in the field of scientific computing could be detected – shifts away from the mere conceptualisation of dead archaeological heritage parks towards a wider appreciation of the dynamic aspects of living heritage sites. Heated discussions showed that even if the humanities are more and more willing to implement virtual modelling into their methodological approaches, they still regard computer sciences as mere tools and not as scientific partners per se. However, large areas of the globally virtualised world still focus on surface-oriented apparently completed heritage products and ignore the dynamic social agency of living heritage. Some approaches even refuse to acknowledge traces of age and incompleteness as valid resources of cultural heritage in favour of market-oriented, high-tech reconstructive models that dominate our cultural expectations, and are often produced without a clear collaboration with heritage conservators on site. This workshop tried to initiate further options for a more holistic approach. Only few sites might be more suitable than the so-called “Archaeological Park of Angkor” which is – and this became evident once more in this workshop – one of the most highly contested cultural spaces of a young recovering nation-state like Cambodia in the grasp of globalised heritage construction and market-oriented mass tourism.

Angkor Wat, Source: wikimedia
Angkor Wat, Source: wikimedia

Additional Information

About the Angkor Workshop:

The international workshop ""Archaeologising" Heritage? Local Social Practice vs. Global Virtual Reality" was held from May 2 to 4, 2010 at the Karl Jaspers Centre in Heidelberg. It was the first one of a workshop series about the "Archaeological Park of Angkor", Cambodia. The second workshop of this series was held in May 2011 under the title: ""Rebirthing" Angkor? Heritage between Decadence, Decay, Revival and the Mission to Civilize".

It has been organised by Dr. Michael Falser of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe" within his post-doctoral research project D12 "Heritage as a Transcultural Concept" in collaboration with Dr. Michael Winckler (Interdisciplinary Centre of Scientific Computing). The workshop was initiated by Research Area D "Historicities and Heritage" under the auspice of Prof. Monica Juneja (Cluster’s Chair of Global Art History).

About the author:

Dr. Michael Falser is postdoctoral research fellow at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". He coordinates the Project D12 "Heritage as a Transcultural Concept" at the Chair of Global Art History.

The pictures have been taken by Verena Vöckel.


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  • Angkor Wat, Source: wikimedia

    Angkor Wat, Source: wikimedia