School of Vice: There's just one small problem: if this ancient historical site of Oc Eo was the birthplace of Khmer [Cambodian] civilisation, or one of its earliest pillars, and the place locates within the annexed territory of Kampuchea Krom [Southern Cambodia], does this mean that Vietnam is now unwittingly contradicting its long-held claim that the earliest inhabitants of the region had belonged not to the Khmer ethno-linguistic group [or any other], but to Sino-Vietnamese ancestry; a claim that has aroused much angry reaction from Cambodian and Khmer Krom community of late?
Of course, knowing the Vietnamese, they'll find a way to wriggle out of this one too ...
No one disputes that Oc Eo is a site of great archaelogical value. Vietnam this week named it a "national relic". But was it also the place where ancient Romans and Khmers met?
In 2nd century AD Egypt, the legendary Greco-Roman scientist Claudius Ptolemy put the extent of the known world onto paper. From his home in Alexandria, he gathered reports from sailors who had made perilous journeys to India and possibly beyond. Though details were sparse, a voyager named Alexander described a distant port called Kattigara on the Sinus Magna (Great Gulf) to the east of the Golden Chersonese peninsula – widely considered to be mainland Malaysia.
Halfway across the world around the same time, the bustling seaport Oc Eo was part of the flourishing Funan Kingdom, the earliest known pre-Angkorian civilisation and origin of the earliest Khmer-language inscriptions.
Located in modern Vietnam’s An Giang province near the Cambodian border, Oc Eo was on Monday declared a “national relic” by the Vietnamese government. Vuong Binh Thanh, chairman of the People’s Committee of An Giang, reportedly told onlookers that it was essential to preserve the 450-hectare site for the sake of tourism and academia alike.
Excavation at Oc Eo suggests it was major centre for international maritime trade. Unearthed jewellery, pottery statues, coins and gold pieces – including depictions of Hindu deities and Sanskrit inscriptions – indicate busy trade with the Indian subcontinent.
Most curious, however, are the 2nd century AD Roman coins, found by French archaeologist Louis Malleret, who is credited with discovering the archaeological site in 1942.
While certainly one of Vietnam’s most important archaeological sites, could Oc Eo actually be Ptolemy’s Kattigara? And is it possible that Roman mariners could have travelled there and encountered Cambodia’s ancient ancestors?