Archeologists see the charm of new relic site

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  The foundation of a main Cham tower unearthed in Phong Le Village in the central city of Da Nang last month. Photos: Nguyen Tu

Several Cham artifacts dating back to the 10th century, including the foundations of two ancient Hindu temples, have been unearthed at Phong Le Village in Da Nang.

A team consisting of archaeologists from the city's Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture and Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities resumed excavation in July after some work last year when a local resident found some artifacts while building his house.             

Besides the foundations, the team also found more than 30 artifacts in good condition, including bricks, tiles and ceramics.

By August the foundation of a main tower was excavated. It has a square-shaped pit 1.82 meters deep filled alternately with layers of granite pebbles, quartz and white sand.

According to the archeologists, these materials were used by the Cham in the past to fill the pits built under the towers for worshipping.

Similar pits were also unearthed at the My Son Sanctuary in the central province of Quang Nam, a cluster of Hindu temples and towers that were recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, but which are smaller than the ones in Phong Le, meaning the main Da Nang tower itself must have been quite big.

One of eight pyramid-shaped niches that served as altars in a square-shaped pit 1.82 meters deep under the foundation of the main Cham tower
On the four walls of the pits are eight pyramid-shaped niches that served as altars. Measuring 47 53 centimeters tall, each had a piece of processed quartz in front.

In the middle of each is a large oval pebble 14-16 centimeters tall placed under a square brick measuring 16 x 16 centimeters.

The archeologists said it was probably a way for the Cham to cast a spell. Team leader Dr. Nguyen Chieu from the university's Department of Archaeology, said: "We haven't yet been able to decipher the pit's unique, peculiar architecture."

Many Cham-style bricks and tiles have been found in the village by the locals, but nobody had imagined they were living atop a relic site dating back to 1,000 years ago.

Some sixth and seventh century relics that are in the museum were found in the village more than a century ago by a plantation owner who then gave them to French archaeologist Henri Parmentier.

The latest discovery, according to Dr. Le Dinh Phung, a local historian, provides a peep into the mysteries of Da Nang's cultural heritage.

"Da Nang inherited the Sa Huynh Culture and then the Cham's more than 1,000-year history and culture. There are at least 10 Cham ruins in the city, but most of them are buried underground.

"Only few artifacts and structures, including wells, remain."

The artifacts, including bricks and quartz, attract foreign researchers
According to Vo Van Thang, the museum's director, the team wants to transform the place into an archaeological site with preservation and display areas for tourism purposes.

"The site is situated right beside Nation Highway 1A and Cau Do River, which is very convenient for transportation and connects the My Son Complex and other relics by water," he said.

"It has great potential to become an attractive tourism spot if the excavation work is carried out properly and in time."

Phong Le Village is itself a famous location mentioned in the Hong Duc map - drawn in 1490 during King Le Thanh Tong's reign. Its name was changed from Da Ly to Phong Le in 1841 when Nguyen general Ong Ich Khiem, a Phong Le native, became a mandarin.

It has several traditional garden houses and temples besides cultural practices, customs, crafts, and festivals that are in vogue even today.

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