1000 year old stolen lintels will arrive in Thailand tomorrow night

Two ancient stolen Thai lintels will arrive home after 6 decades tomrrow. (via Royal Thai Consulate Facebook)

Two ancient stolen lintels from Thailand’s Khmer past, dated around the 11th century, are returning to Thailand after being smuggled out of Thailand during the Vietnam War. A lintel (don’t worry, we had to Google it too) is the top beam or arch of a doorway structure, and this artefact from the Lopburi period was carved from sandstone about 1000 years ago. A repatriation ceremony was held at the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Los Angeles to commemorate the return of the priceless ancient art, scheduled to arrive back in Thailand about 10 pm tomorrow.

One lintel was from the Prasat Nong Hong in Buriram with a hand carving of Yama Deity. The other lintel, depicting Indra Deity on Kirtimukha, or the glorious face, was from the Prasat Khao Lon in Sa Kaew province. Photographic evidence shows the stolen lintels in their original homes within each of these temples before it is believed they were smuggled out of Thailand in the shadows of the war in Vietnam.

The stolen lintels each weigh about 680 kilogrammes and were stolen and sold to European antie merchants in the late 1960s, later sold to an anonymous antique trader for about $15,000 each according to the director-general of Thailand’s Fine Arts Department. The Nong Hong lintel was donated to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in 1966 and the Khao Lon lintel was purchased 2 years later by the museum.

Upon arriving in Thailand, the ancient artefacts will be closely examined by experts and then transferred to the Bangkok National Museum on Monday to be put on display in Issara Vinijchai Throne Hall, the museum’s main hall. The opening will be attended by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, but the date has not been confirmed due to Covid-19.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Investigation joined the consulate to officially return the stolen lintels to Thailand after 6 decades apart. Special agents from the HSI joined Consul-Generals from Thai Embassies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, as well as the Thai ambassador to the US for the ceremony.

The Thai ambassador gave a speech thanking all agencies involved in the return and sharing the hope that it will open the gates to the recovery of other ancient Thai antiquities. The HSI also spoke of the importance of returning antiquities that hold historical, archaeological and cultural importance to their rightful countries and to museums, stating that the organisation has aided in repatriating over 13,000 artefacts and antiquities.

The investigation took more than 3 years to track down and gather evidence before the recovery of the priceless ancient artefacts. It began with a group of local Thais investigating about 300 bronze artefacts and stumbled onto the stolen lintels. The Thai consulate expressed thanks to the US agencies involved and the long friendly relationship between the two countries.

SOURCE: Royal Thai Embassy Los Angeles, Bangkok Post, and Thai PBS World

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.


  1. Actually Slugger there is no mention in this article or past ones of the American’s stealing the artifacts. The items came to the museum of art in SF legitimately from European sources. Like most CCP apologists, you never bother to let facts get in the way of a good anti-western rant. That aside, it’s wonderful that Thailand is finally getting them back. I’ve visited Prasat Nong Hong. It’s not a place you visit Buriram to go see, but it is very nice way to spend the day if you are visiting Buriram.

  2. @Mr Cynic. There are no stolen items in the British museum. There are plenty of items some local corrupt leader or local sold items to the British. Host to clear up any confusion

  3. Nigel,the government and people of Nigeria completely disagree with you,they seem to be of exactly the same opinion as me.
    Would you also like to enlighten me about how the items from the opium wars ended up there and well your at it explain exactly the items from the taklamakan desert that are stored in vaults under the museum and never put on public display legitimately turned up in london because it all looks rather like theft to me .

  4. Nigel , were the elgin horses stolen , gifted or simply flew by themselves to the british museum ?
    BTW , no one stole or approprieted more artifacts from everywhere in the world than the english

  5. They are lintels from Khmer era temples located in what is now Thailand, which were stolen and smuggled out of Thailand approx 45-50 years ago.

    Much of the Thai population, especially in the central and eastern regions, can probably trace their origins to the Khmer, who ruled much of what is now Thailand.
    At one point the Khmer empire stretched as far west as Kanchanaburi, north to Sukhothai and most of Eastern Thailand (and parts of what are now Laos and Vietnam).

    The “Tai” people migrated from China/Northern Vietnam between the 8-10th centuries CE, which, coincidentally is also when the Khmer were expanding their empire.
    There is little doubt that the 2 cultures inter-mingled, a lot, over the centuries before the Khmer empire converted to Buddhism and then quietly disappeared.

    I have visited over 50 ancient Khmer sites in Thailand, some of which are little more than a few laterite stones sticking out of the dirt, some of which are crumbling remains and some of which have been magnificently restored (well, some have been restored in a somewhat haphazard fashion which most people wouldn’t notice).

    The lintels are a critical part of the temple as they usually identify who the temple was dedicated to and perhaps some other figures. The style and artistry also help to date the temple.

    Prasat Khao Lon is a crumbling ruin with just a single prang (of the 4 originals) still standing. A long, rough stone path leads up to it and the prang is fortified with braces to keep it from toppling over.
    Prasat Nong Hong is a much larger site located in Non Din Daeng. It is in much better condition and better maintained than Khao Lon. Most of the original structure is still in place (doesn’t appear that a lot of reconstruction was required).

    Theft of artifacts from temples has been going on ever since they were built, but really took off in the 50/60s/70s as more people, with more money, took an interest in collecting rare and unique artifacts, usually for their private collections.
    Usually, the original thieves/buyers have long been forgotten by the time the artifacts are discovered and how the current owners acquired them is often murky at best.

    And yes, that includes a lot of everything in the British Museum as well. All that stuff from Egypt and Persia didn’t just appear there magically, no matter how many “Mummy” movies you may have seen.

    Trying reading the bit about the controversies of the British Museum:

  6. Robin BanksThursday, May 27, 2021 at 5:12 pm
    You didn’t know what a lintel was??!! OMG!! Such a lack of general knowledge… and you report on things of importance! God help us

    Maybe there are some things that you don’t know the meaning from. Don’t take Your lack of knowledge out on other people. If you don’t have anything better to say ,Please Shut Up.

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