Almost as quickly as we started at Khnar Po, it was time to wrap up excavations for the season. In reality, we were working at the site for a little over 4 weeks but they came and went very quickly. As I mentioned last time, working in a village like Khnar Po was very different to what I had become accustomed to in the fields of Bangkong. Life in the rural community carried on around us over the month we spent there and we were at first treated as a curio, and I got the impression of minor suspicion. After all, we were a relatively large group who seemed to obsess over the fragments of pottery which in some areas were ubiquitous. Quickly though, any suspension melted away into genuine interest and various families, groups and individuals would approach the excavations and, as I said in my previous post, my local colleagues did an excellent job at explaining why were there. Perhaps, my lack of the Khmer language may be deceiving me, but I got the impression that the villagers were genuinely interested and engaged when they came to visit. As with the tuk tuk drivers who still take the odd snap of a temple, the residents of Khnar Po seemed impressed with their own heritage and eager to learn more about it.
Going back to the same area each day also meant that the local economy gained a little benefit from our presence. One of the local street-side stalls quickly noticed a few of our group’s fondness for a cold can of Coca-Cola after lunch and within in a few days their ice box was kept well stocked. One particular day, when I was feeling a little run down, one of the APSARA archaeologists suggested that drinking some fresh coconut juice would help to settle my stomach. I agreed entirely, and in my naivety made a mental note to buy one when I was back in town later. What she meant however, was that I should drink immediately. She popped over to a couple of local guys who were conveniently parked just over the road with a cart full of fresh coconuts. I watched on with a happy wonderment as one of the lads skilfully ascended a nearby tree without any kind of rope or safety net and proceeded to cut down half a dozen ripe coconuts before shimmying back to the ground. You couldn’t get fresher! The coconut did the trick and I soon felt much better.
The Khnar Po kiln complex is built along an earlier, but still Angkorian, embankment, presumably used to control water for the fields. The kilns themselves utilise the slop of the embankment and in places are closely packed in, with some only 10m apart. The two kilns we primarily focused on (A6 and A11) were both in the front garden of a traditional Khmer house. The house was a relatively large wooden structure raised up on concrete and wood posts so it stands around 2.5m above the ground surface. The shelter beneath the house provided welcome relief to us on multiple days when the rainy season lived up to its name and drenched everything in sight. The land around the house featured, as well as two kilns, a menagerie with cows, chickens, pig s, geese, dogs and various other animals popping up from time to time. Two magnificent bulls spent most of their days between our two kilns, munching on straw or relaxing in the shade. I named them both Daisy, as all cows should be called, and made sure I said good morning to them every day (A habit I picked up when working in Bosnia). As well as the traditional farm animals, we also had the occasional small snake, scorpion and many different bugs. One particular day whilst excavating the Fire Box of A6, I noticed the tell-tale signs of a scorpion lurking in wait in a small dark void in the soil. I quickly called over Dong, my resident scorpion ‘re-locater’ and he dived into action. His quick hands grab the extended claw before he burst out laughing, the other workers that had gathered to see the action also erupted with hysterics. I was bemused but he slowly turned to me and showed, not a vicious scorpion ready to strike, but a harmless small freshwater crab. Despite my protestations, I was good-heartedly mocked for a few days as the guy who was scared of a little crab.
The two kilns we excavated provided to be subtlety different from those at Bangkong. The most notable difference was in the composition of the fireboxes of the two kilns at Khnar Po. Both were significantly narrower and deeper than at Bangkong and this increased depth meant better preservation of features such as the fire holes, where fuel was inserted during firing, and the air vents, where air flow was regulated. At A6, we discovered the first intact air vent that featured three separate square chambers stacked on top of each other. During firing, the firebox would fill up with ash, meaning that lower air vents would become blocked and so it makes sense that there would be some kind of innovation that enabled the air to be controlled throughout the process. Before our discovery however, this had only been hypothesised, so to have actual evidence of how Angkorian potters overcame this problem was quite exciting. The kilns at Khnar Po also featured much more modification, and repair than those at Bangkong. Each floor surface appeared to have been modified multiple times and walls were found to have been completely reconstructed. Unfortunately, we only had time to excavate two kilns at the complex on this visit so it is difficult to draw wider conclusions, however careful analysis of the dimensions of all of the kilns excavate this year will hopefully provide interesting information about the changes and innovations in Angkorian ceramic production technology.
So, with excavations now mostly complete, and the fantastic workers busying themselves with the inevitable backfilling there is time to reflect on how the whole season has gone, that however is for next time.