Myanmar Archaeologists Object to Construction Near Ancient Pagodas in Bagan

By Zue Zue 9 January 2020

YANGON—Conservationists have expressed concern over a construction site located near stupas in Bagan that experts say are from the Pyu era.

The Myanmar Archaeology Association issued a statement Tuesday voicing concerns that the construction project may impact the stupas as it includes foundations around 1.5 m deep. The association said it still can’t confirm the purpose of the building or the identity of the developer.

“Nobody knows what lies underground. It shouldn’t be done without consulting with the archaeology department. We can’t accept residential buildings or other buildings built in the heritage zone,” Myanmar Archaeology Association Secretary Ko Thura Aung told The Irrawaddy.

Bagan is a major tourist draw for Myanmar and was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in July 2019. The Pyu era lasted from 200 BC to AD 900, when the Bagan kingdom took over the other Pyu city-states and ruled from AD 1044-1287.

The statement called on authorities to intervene directly. Archaeologists believe excavations at the religious site, known as the “four-stupa site,” can uncover new findings.

“Though we can’t say definitely [regarding further excavations], these Pyu stupas indicate that Bagan had culturally flourished and Buddhism had arrived there since the Pyu era. These are very important facts,” said heritage adviser Daw Ohmar Myo.

Archaeologists believe the Pyu stupas in Bagan were built between the 4th and 8th centuries AD. Experts have also said that because the stupas are located in close proximity to Thiri Pyissaya Palace, which was built before the establishment of the Bagan empire, they should be excavated.

“New buildings like this can damage the archaeological evidence underground. This can lead to misrepresentation of the history of Myanmar people,” said Daw Ohmar Myo.

She added that the government should give serious consideration if it is to grant land-use permits in old and new Bagan as well as Nyaung-U due to their cultural significance.

Ko Thura Aung said that the regional government, if it is going to make a decision that affects a cultural heritage zone, should consult with the regional cultural heritage conservation committee and the archaeology department.

“It is unacceptable that the regional government has granted permission instead of raising an objection to [the construction]. I would like to urge them to listen to the voices of experts,” he said.

The Bagan branch of the Archaeology, National Museum and Library Department, overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, reportedly remarked in 2017 that the area near the Pyu pagodas must be included in a list of conservation sites.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach Bagan branch archaeology department director U Aung Kyaw Kyaw for further details.

Bagan is home to some 3,000 pagodas and temples dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries—a period during which some 50 kings ruled during the Bagan Dynasty.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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