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Lecture on "Ancient Medical Industries in Cambodia and the 2017 NSC Archaeological Field School"


Thursday, 19 October 2017 – Since 2011, the NSC Archaeological Field School has worked with regional partners to train participants from East Asia Summit (EAS) member countries in archaeology and its related fields. Field Schools consist of a research project and training components with funding provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore.

Dr. D. Kyle Latinis, Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, giving an overview about the NSC Archaeological Field School (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute).

The 2017 Field School was conducted at Tonle Snguot, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Tonle Snguot is a 12th/13th century Angkorian hospital compound at the northern gate of the famed archaeological city of Angkor Thom – the home of Angkorian King Jayavarman VII. Research and training were conducted in partnership with the APSARA National Authority.

The team made spectacular discoveries of a two metre guardian statue (Dvarapala) and several rare Buddha statues - one of which is a “Healing” or “Medicine” Buddha (Bhaisajayaguru). The Bhaisajyaguru is the first ever discovered in a hospital complex.

Although the statuary garnered international attention, the central research theme considered the nature of ancient medical industries and hospital compounds in relation to urbanisation and complex polities. “Inter-Asian connections” remains the guiding theme for of the Field School research, training and partnership building.

Field School director Dr. D. Kyle Latinis first began his lecture by discussing the 2017 Field School’s purpose, design and implementation. The participants made several site visits and conducted field exercises for a more contextual and holistic understanding of the research goals. Evening lectures were held to discuss and exchange knowledge. Hands-on workshops were also conducted to allow for maximum experiential learning. Participants were also involved in on-site skills-training modules during excavations. Finally, mini research projects culminated as group presentations in Singapore. Research design and implementation are cornerstones of the Field School.

Dr. D. Kyle Latinis with Dr Hélène Njoto, Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, who chaired the seminar (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute).

Despite the rarity of the statuary finds, Dr Latinis noted that the bigger research agenda included understanding the nature of facilities, habitation, and specialised activities at hospital sites. Dr. Latinis speculated that the hospital complex may have been bigger in area with numerous facilities including the possibility of medicinal and therapeutic gardens. What we see today are only the remains of the chapel, walls, library and pond. Other facilities would have been constructed largely of perishable materials.

He also posited that the hospitals may have served social, economic, logistic, security and political purposes. For Jayavarman VII, state-sponsored public healthcare was important. Dr. Latinis discussed preliminary finds and results from the site excavations.

A lively Q&A session followed the engaging seminar (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute).

The 60 min lecture was attended by an audience of 21 people, including research scholars, students, and members of the public.  It was followed by a lively 30min Q&A session in which Dr. Latinis answered questions over the nature of the hospitals and hospital inscriptions; possible links with hospital sites in Sri Lanka; the evidence of epidemics in Vietnam and Southern China during the same period; and whether the hospitals were a statement and demonstration of spiritual power and/or Mahayana Buddhist religiosity.