The Living Archaeology of a Painful Heritage: The First and Second Life of the Khmer Rouge Mass Graves

  • Anne Yvonne Guillou
Part of the Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context book series (TRANSCULT)


This chapter focuses on a particularly difficult category of ‘archaeological artefact,’ namely the thousands of human remains of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979) that were disposed of in mass graves or left scattered across the landscape. After the overthrow of this regime, the handling of these remains fell to the newly installed Vietnamese-sponsored Cambodian state in the 1980s and then the Khmer villagers from the 1980s until now. The chapter describes how the government on the one hand and the peasants on the other have been treating these unidentified bodies in different ways as two contrasting perceptions and practices of memory and commemoration. The peasants’ ‘living archaeology’ of the mass graves is structured by their religious system in which the earth is a major element. The ritual practices performed for the anonymous dead of the mass graves follow two rationales: the rationale of the earth as a living element ‘nurtured’ by fragments of Angkorean statues as well as by the corpses buried during various times, and the rationale of the sacred geography of ‘powerful places.’ The chapter draws on ethnographic field work carried out in a village and its environment in the province of Pursat (Western Cambodia).


Living archaeology Genocide Khmer Rouge Neak Ta Memory and heritage 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre of Southeast Asian studies (CASE)French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS)ParisFrance

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