The Phatthalung gold treasure

by Ursula Kampmann

June 5, 2014 – The first thing a Western reader has to do when he hears about Phatthalung Province is to look it up on the map. It is located in the South of Thailand, on the Malay Peninsula. The history of this region admittedly is rather unfamiliar to us. And yet, Phatthalung was settled as early as Prehistoric times. There must have been several important city-states in the first millennium A. D. which Chinese chronicles make ample reference to. According to them, Phatthalung once became part of the empire of Srivijaya and later of the kingdom of Sukhothai. To us, the names alone are unpronounceable, and even less we know about the civilization behind it. On the other hand, the present-day population of the province has as little a connection to it as we do. Right now, they are destroying important cultural heritage. The only thing the authorities can do is watch, being more or less powerless.

On 24 or 25 May 2014, a land worker came across a gold treasure when he was just planting some trees. The news spread like wildfire and thousands of people came from nearby villages and even nearby provinces to dig for gold and make their fortune. Many treasure hunters found elaborately worked gold sheets weighing between 15.244 grams and one kilogram. To find them, they had to dig holes in the ground as deep as three meters.

Land owner Wi Tubsaeng of course informed the police. After all, the treasure seekers were vandalizing his plantation. The police, however, was outnumbered and could not do anything against the diggers who continued their destructive action for some days. At some point in the middle of the week, officials from the Thai Fine Arts Department under the direction of director-general Anek Sihamart arrived at the scene of event. They examined both the find-spot and some of the gold sheets. According to their statement, the items are probably 700 to 800 years old. In order to retrieve at least some of the historical testimonia, the Fine Arts Department offered to acquire these at one third of a ‘market price’ fixed by the government. They brought forward the argument that this would provide the honest finder with ten times the gold price. To what extent the modest people are inclined to trust the representatives of a just recently overthrown government that was combatted precisely because, among other things, it was not able to keep the promise of buying the rice off the rice-farmers at a state-guaranteed price, is open to question.

At any rate, neither the Fine Arts Department nor the police have been successful so far in their attempts to stop the treasure hunters. That was why the Fine Arts Department has now called the army for assistance. Additionally, a meeting of roughly 100 village elders was convened and threatens all those who are not willing to hand in their findings to the government within 15 days with up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine amounting to 700,000 baht (c. 15,600 euros or 21,260 $).

Whether or not the gold rush has left anything at all worth digging for was not reported so far. Anek Sihamart explained that no further examination was possible yet due to rainwater and the ground being muddy.

The gold rush was reported by the Bangkok Post. Here you can also find depictions of the findings.

Thai PBS reported that the military was asked for help.

The threats of the Fine Arts Department were a topic for Thai Visa Forum.

Really nice pictures from Phatthalung Province are available on YouTube.

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