Ancient Buri Ram artwork found in San Francisco museum

Ancient Buri Ram artwork found in San Francisco museum

San Francisco's Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture, named for its biggest donor, is billed as one of the largest such showcases in the world - and home of a priceless Buri Ram lintel. (Photos via
San Francisco's Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture, named for its biggest donor, is billed as one of the largest such showcases in the world - and home of a priceless Buri Ram lintel. (Photos via

White rock carving of Lord Yama, god of death, surrounded by flowers, likely smuggled from Thailand during Vietnam War.


Ancient Buri Ram artwork found in San Francisco museum

Ploenpote Atthakor

A lintel carved from white sandstone featuring Lord Yama, or the god of death surrounded by flowers, has been on exhibition at the Chong Moon Lee Museum of Asian Art in San Francisco.

A lintel is a decorative object above a gate.

The ancient artwork is believed to have been smuggled out of Thailand decades ago during the Vietnam war.


A Buri Ram-based conservation group has kick-started a campaign for the return of the artwork to Thailand.

Tanongsak Harnwong, leader of Samnuek 300 Ong conservation group, is leading the campaign.


The lintel was believed to have been stolen from Nong Hong temple in Buri Ram's Non Din Daeng district some 50 years ago.

First of all, Chong Moon Museum itself identifies the lintel as being from "Nong Hong temple, Buri Ram province".

The art conservation group obtained a photo of the lintel in the American museum and compared it with a photo taken by the late archaeologist Manit Vallibhotama.

"They look like the same item," said the businessman-turned- conservationist who was involved in the restoration of Nong Hong temple in 2002-2003.

The famous Phanom Rung temple in Buriram that had smuggled artwork returned to it in 1988 (Source: Wikipedia).


Another lintel was stolen from the famous Phanom Rung temple and eventually retrieved from the Chicago Art Institute and reinstalled at Phanom Rung Sanctuary in 1988.

That lintel depicted the god Vishnu reclining on the Serpent Ananta. 

The late archaeologist Manit Vallibhotama also took a photo of the famous Vishnu reclining on the Serpent Ananta lintel at Phanom Rung sanctuary, and found the two were identical.

According to Mr Tanongsak, Manit took the two photos, among many others, during his exploratory trip of the Northeast and they were included in the report he published in 1960.

It was Manit's photo of the Vishnu lintel that Thailand used as key evidence to prove the country's ownership of the invaluable lintel, eventually winning the case.

Manit's photo of the Nong Hong lintel showed the object was attached above the gate on a building on the southern side of the temple.

The lintel is said to be from the same period as the 12th century Prasart Muang Tam in Buri Ram.

The art conservation group has been studying the previous Vishnu lintel case and would use it as a model to pursue the current case.


"It's the right move as the public wants the piece of national heritage returned to the country," Tanongsak said.

The lintel is described on the museum's website as a "museum purchase" with no further details on its origin.

The description of the artwork says it comes from "Cambodia or Northeastern Thailand, former kingdom of Angkor, date approximately 975-1025".

The artwork is currently on display at the museum's Gallery 9.

The artwork is said to be pre- Angokorean and in the Kleang-Baphuon style.

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  • according to (prep): as stated or reported by somebody/something - ตามคำบอกเล่า, ตามรายงาน
  • ancient: very old - ที่เก่าแก่ ที่โบราณ
  • approximately: used to show that something is almost, but not completely, accurate or correct - โดยประมาณ
  • artwork: one piece of art such a painting or drawing or sculpture - งานศิลป์, อาร์ตเวิร์ก
  • attach: to fasten or join one thing to another - ทำให้ติดกัน, ต่อ, ยึดติด
  • carve: to cut out from something like stone or wood - แกะ, ตัด
  • case: a matter that is being officially investigated or heard by a court - คดี
  • conservation: to conserve something; to keep and protect something from damage, change or waste สงวน,เก็บรักษา -
  • conservationist: a person who takes an active part in the protection of the environment - นักอนุรักษ์ธรรมชาติ
  • currently: at this time; now - ในปัจจุบัน
  • decades: periods of ten years - เป็นสิบๆปี
  • depict: to represent or show something in a picture or story - พรรณนา, บรรยายให้เห็นภาพ
  • detail (noun): the small facts or features of something - รายละเอียด, ส่วนเล็กๆ น้อยๆ, ส่วนย่อย
  • eventually: at the end of a period of time or at the end of a process - ในที่สุด
  • evidence: facts, signs or objects that make you believe that something is true - หลักฐาน,ข้อแสดง
  • exhibition: a public show where art or other interesting things are put so that people can go and look at them - นิทรรศการ งานแสดง
  • exploratory: examining something completely or carefully in order to find out more about it - สำรวจ,ตรวจ
  • feature: something important, interesting or typical of a place or thing - จุดเด่น, คุณสมบัติ
  • further: more; additional - มากไปกว่านี้
  • gallery (noun): a room or building for showing works of art or other items of interest, especially to the public - ห้องแสดงผลงานศิลปะ, ห้องแสดงผลงาน
  • heritage: the art, buildings, traditions, and beliefs that a society considers important to its history and culture - มรดก ประเพณีที่ตกทอด
  • identify: to specify who someone is - ระบุชื่อ
  • invaluable: extremely useful or valuable - ซึ่งประมาณค่ามิได้, ซึ่งหาค่ามิได้
  • involved (verb): taking part or having a role in something - เกี่ยวข้อง, มีบทบาท
  • key: very important - ที่สำคัญ
  • leader: the person in charge of a group of people; who manages them and "leads" them in doing some activity - ผู้นำ
  • lintel: a piece of stone or wood that supports the wall above a door or window - ขื่อประตู,ทับหลัง
  • model: something such as a system that can be copied by other people - น่าถือเป็นแบบอย่าง, ต้นแบบ
  • move (noun): action -
  • national (adjective): for the whole country - แห่งชาติ, ของชาติ
  • object: a thing that can be seen or touched, but is not alive - วัตถุ, สิ่งของ
  • obtain: to get something that you want or need, especially by going through a process that is difficult - ได้มา, ได้รับ
  • on display: shown to the public -
  • origin: the place where someone/something comes from - ที่มา, ต้นกำเนิด
  • ownership (noun): the condition or state of owning things, having things that you "own", that belong to you, that you are the "owner" of - สิทธิการครอบครอง, ความเป็นเจ้าของ
  • pre-: before -
  • previous: happening or existing before the event or object that you are talking about - แต่ก่อน, เมื่อก่อน
  • prove: to use facts, evidence, etc. to show that something is true - พิสูจน์
  • province: one of many divisions of the government of a country into smaller parts - จังหวัด
  • publish: to make something available to the public through books, magazines, the Internet, etc. - เผยแพร่, จัดพิมพ์
  • purchase: something that has been bought - ของที่ซื้อมา
  • purchase: the process of buying something - การซื้อ
  • pursue: to try to achieve something - ดำเนินตาม, พยายามเพื่อให้ได้มาซึ่ง
  • recline: when a person lies down on one side, not flat -
  • retrieve (verb): to get something back, especially something that is not easy to find - ได้กลับคืนมา
  • serpent (noun): a snake, especially a large one - งูใหญ่
  • smuggle: to take things or people to or from a place secretly and often illegally - ลักลอบนำเข้า
  • surrounded: having something,people, etc. completely around all sides - ถูกล้อมรอบ
  • the public: people in general - ประชาชน, สาธารณชน, มหาชน
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