Marie-Catherine Beaufeïst (École Française d’Extrême-Orient)
How Eveha Participates
The excavations which took place from 20 April to 20 May 2015 were part of the fourth year of the restoration project on the West Mebon temple. The team was made up of 16 people, including two archaeologists from APSARA and two from Éveha International. Excavations were focused on the western part of the temple (Trenches 2300, 2400, 28000 and 29000), as the progress of the restoration works there necessitated that the archaeological investigations be completed quickly.
Trenches 2300 and 2400
They are located in the north-east corner of the temple, on the exterior, nearest the baray. The aim of these two complementary trenches was to document the area surrounding the temple, in particular the exterior sandstone terrace discovered in 2013, and the surviving external wall of the temple’s north-east corner, with a view to restoring it accurately.
These excavations revealed the sophisticated construction of the outer sandstone terrace. This was built on fill layers of sandy clay and was initially comprised of five to six levels. The erosion of part of its foundations due to the action of the water table led to its collapse (fig. 1). Furthermore, a considerable portion of the terrace was dismantled, probably to be reused on other construction sites. This can be explained predominantly by the accessibility of the blocks, by the ease of disassembly (tiered terrace) and by the natural unadorned look of the stones.
The wall of the temple’s north-east corner is more complex than the simple right angle reconstructed by M. Glaize at the south-east corner. The proportions of the blocks and the presence of previously unknown sculpted motifs suggest that this part of the temple was decorated with complex mouldings and probably crownedwith a lotus.
The pottery remains recovered in these layers should enable us to accurately date the construction and occupation periods of the temple.
Located at the foot of the east façade terrace, inside the basin, the focus of this trench was the junction of the base of the terrace and the central causeway which links the outer wall with the aedicula in the centre of the basin. Here, the objective was to determine the stratigraphic relationship between these architectural features, in order to refine the chronology of the ensemble.
Part of the dyke (earthen embankment) of the central causeway was excavated, revealing the various phases of fill layers in its construction. An earlier phase, hitherto unknown, was discovered underneath the dyke. This consisted of an intact pavement of bricks, pierced with post-holes, including six posts or post fragments still in situ.
These posts, arranged in two rows of four, are earlier than the construction of the embankment, and thus call into question the chronology of the architectural complex. The wooden posts were removed and radiocarbon analysis will be carried out on them in order to date this earlier construction phase.
The very well made brick paving sits on compact fill layers and is bordered by a bank of at least six courses of bevelled laterite blocks. It is thus possible to envisage that the basin was much deeper than originally thought: a depth of two metres seems quite possible. Very few artefacts were found in this trench, with the exception of a few pottery sherds.
(figs. 2 to 6)
This trench, and in particular the west section, revealed further information about the temple’s outer wall.
An embankment of extremely compact earth approximately 6m wide at its base and 2.6m high makes up the foundations. This feature is comprised of a clayey sand deposit which, once compacted, is watertight. This impermeability enabled water from the Baray to enter the temple basin, while limiting its evacuation during the dry season. This accounts for the fact that the water level in the basin was often higher than that of the baray (fig. 7).
The sandstone terrace comprises 11 courses of blocks whose standard dimensions are 90x50x45cm; smaller blocks were nevertheless used to fill in spaces. The bottom two courses consist of headers, while the upper courses are comprised of stretchers. This wall is built on a fill layer made up of alternating deposits of soft pink sand and sandstone carving waste from the freshly assembled blocks. For each new course of stone, the builders therefore added a layer of sand, covered by a layer of masonry debris from the last blocks laid. The lack of cohesion of this fill layer and the lesser load-bearing capacity of the upper levels of the terrace were the cause of the structure’s collapse.
On the side nearest the basin, the builders added a causeway 5.5m wide at the foot of the sandstone terrace. This feature was held in place and protected from erosion due to fluctuations in the basin’s water level by a bank of at least three courses of bevelled laterite blocks. The laterite terrace and the somewhat poorly built brick pavement have been rather badly preserved.
Very few artefacts were recovered from this trench (fig. 8), which is understandable, seeing as it consisted mainly of foundation fill layers.