“Stories in Stone” Reveals Enigmas of Khmer History

After years studying a remote temple hidden on the Thai-Cambodian border, author John Burgess reveals new insights into the ancient mysteries of the Khmer Empire in “Stories in Stone”.

Bangkok, Thailand – In 1052 AD, ancient Khmer priests carved a sandstone monolith with an extraordinary royal history at the temple of Sdok Kok Thom. By the 14th century, however, war and political upheaval caused the collapse of the once-might Khmers, and this story was lost to the world for centuries. As a reporter for the Washington Post in 1979, John Burgess was covering the Cambodian refugee crisis when he first entered this obscure temple.

His tenacious pursuit of its historical mystery are now available in his new book,Stories in Stone – The Sdok Kok Thom Inscription & the Enigma of Khmer History.”

Author John Burgess unveils ancient Khmer mysteries about a remote Hindu temple on the Thai-Cambodian border, in "Stories in Stone".
“Stories in Stone – The Sdok Kok Thom Inscription & the Enigma of Khmer History” – 2010 – Riverbooks

Stories in Stone – The Sdok Kok Thom Inscription

The founding of an empire, the settling of frontier lands, a king’s gifting of gold pitchers and black-eared stallions to a Brahmin priest – these and other remarkable stories come down to us in the Sdok Kok Thom Inscription, one of the world’s most important ancient testaments.

Recovered at a ruined temple in Thailand close to the Cambodian border, the 340-line chronicle unlocks the early history of the Khmer Empire. Yet temple and text have remained little known outside expert circles.

In this full and highly readable account, former Washington Post correspondent John Burgess traces the impact of the great inscription, which was carved onto a sandstone monolith around 1052 AD, abandoned to the wild for centuries, then decoded by French colonialists. He relates the temple’s surprise emergence in 1979 as a haven for Cambodian refugees and resistance fighters during the war in their homeland. Today Sdok Kok Thom is again at peace, its mission of preserving history accomplished.

The detailed book includes photographs of the temple, past and present, Refugee Camp 007 and its refugees and militias; extracts from previously unpublished letters of French savant Étienne Aymonier, the inscription’s first translator, written during his months of travels around Cambodia in 1882-1885; a revised English translation of the full inscription by the University of Hawaii linguists Chhany Sak-Humphry and Philip N. Jenner; a glossary of terms; and suggested further readings.

‘While reporting on Cambodians fleeing war and revolution in 1979, John Burgess came across an ancient Khmer temple hidden in the bush… 30 years later he returned to that temple to decipher its history. The result is this lovely book that tells the story of the temple and the larger Angkor Empire leavened with Burgess’ own odyssey to recover that history.’

Elizabeth Becker
Author of When the War was Over

About the Author

John Burgess worked at the Washington Post for 28 years, most recently as Deputy Foreign Editor in charge of Europe, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. John’s career as a journalist began in Southeast Asia and he later served as Tokyo bureau chief for The Post in 1984-87. Since retiring he has been able to devote more time to his passion for historical study, with a month of research in Thailand and Cambodia allowing him to complete his work on the mysteries of Sdok Kok Thom.

Hear the author discuss Sdok Kok Thom on this NPR radio interview.

For the latest information please visit the Stories in Stone website.

John Burgess at Sdok Kok Thom


Available now from Riverbooks in Bangkok

Available for advance order on Amazon in the USA

Leave a Reply