YALA — An archaeological site in southern Thailand could be demolished to make way for a commercial mining operation, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday.
The revelation prompted angry netizens to demand answers from the Fine Arts Department, who authorized the Yala landmark’s special status to be withdrawn. An art enthusiast who broke the news said officials should value the painting, which is believed to date back at least 1,000 years.
“This is not an acceptable reason,” Pasinee Pramunwong, who runs Facebook page Artteller, said in an interview. “Many researches suggested that the paintings may be about 1,000 years old. Some even suggested that they could be dated back to the prehistoric era.”
She added, “I’m shocked to see why our government gave up this cultural significance so easily.”
The 190 rai (30.4 hectares) area was previously designated as an archaeological site until a recent announcement published in the Royal Government Gazette withdrew its protection status and permitted mining operations to take place there.
The announcement said there was a shortage of available mining excavation sites due to the insurgency in the three southernmost provinces. It also said a mining operation there would reduce secessionist violence.
The Department of Fine Arts could not be reached for comments as of press time.
Although the statement was published since Feb. 26, the matter only came to public attention on Wednesday when Pasinee wrote about it on her Facebook page. She called in an “archaeological emergency.”
“There was an explosion at a nearby mountain before, which damaged the Khao Yala cave paintings,” she wrote. “The area, which will become the new concession area, is the last cave painting site left at Khao Yala. It’s not just a stain left on the cave wall, it’s a page of history.”
Her post has since been shared more than 16,000 times. #YalaCave is also one of the the top trending hashtags on Thursday.
“Isn’t the Fine Arts Department’s duty is to preserve these kinds of things? Why did they give it up to the capitalists for mining?” user @nefj94 wrote.
Some were left confused by the rationale cited in the announcement.
“Did I read it correctly? How could the archaeological site reduce the tension in the Deep South?” Thairath news anchor Jomquan Lhaopett wrote on her Twitter.
Transparency activist Srisuwan Janya said on Thursday he will file a petition against then-chief of the Fine Arts Department Anan Chuchotti, who approved the order, for malfeasance.
Khao Yala was declared an archaeological site in 2001, according to the Fine Arts Department. Paintings depicting humans and animals, as well as artifacts like adzes and ceramics, have been found inside the cave.