Archaeologists solve the ultimate puzzle

By Jan McGirk in Bangkok

Published: 06 May 2006

Archaeologists working at the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia have completed what has been hailed as the world's largest and most complicated jigsaw puzzle.

The Baphuon, one of the most ancient temples at the complex, was this week unveiled to the public after decades spent in hundreds of thousands of fragments, which had stumped French and Cambodian scientists.

Restoring the three-storey structure, one of the most fragile monuments at the celebrated complex, was never going to be easy. Some 300,000 pieces of the 11th-century temple, with intricate sandstone panels depicting Hindu legends, lay strewn across 25 acres of jungle after French academics dismantled the collapsing ruins in the 1960s so they could be strengthened. But their notes were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, who ransacked the Phnom Penh office of the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient in 1975.

The French archaeologist Pascal Royère returned to the site in 1995, only to see it had become a slag heap of ancient sandstone. His team reinforced the base with concrete. A computer programme was unable to make sense of the numbered stones, so the crew of 202scientists and specialists relied on their own hunches, and the memories of 30 Cambodian stonemasons who had worked on the original project in the Sixties.


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