Cambodian man arrested with almost 300 centuries-old jars

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A man on Cambodia’s southern coast was arrested for possessing almost 300 centuries-old earthenware jars that he is believed to have salvaged from a shipwreck, an official said Tuesday.

Khieng Phearum, a spokesman for Preah Sihanouk province, said the 42-year-old man was arrested late Sunday after authorities determined that he was illegally keeping 281 small and big jars presumed to be legally protected antiquities at his home.

The man, who was still being interrogated on Tuesday, is an expert diver and had been spotted in the area of an underwater shipwreck in the Gulf of Thailand off the coastal city of Sihanoukville from which the pottery is believed to have been retrieved, Khieng Phearum said,

He said he did not know how the man retrieved the jars or how long they have been in his possession, but the authorities had become aware of his collection, and after observation, arrested the man at his home.

It was not known if the man intended to sell the jars, but he is expected to be charged under a law protecting Cambodia’s cultural heritage.

Long Punna Serivath, a spokesman for the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry, said Monday that judging from photos of the jars, they were likely made some time during the 15th to 17th centuries, officially making them antiquities.

Buth Bupha, a director of the Culture and Fine Arts Department of Preah Sihanouk province, said the origin of the jars and the ship from which they were presumably taken have not yet been established, and experts will study the collection for answers.

He said that in 2015, several hundred pieces of similar pottery were collected from a sunken Chinese ship off nearby Koh Kong province.