THAILAND - A palm plantation in Phatthalung has attracted a huge number of gold prospectors. Armed with hoes and shovels, these people are no daydreamers.
In recent days, glittering big sheets of gold have been found here. It remains unclear how the precious items ended up on the plot but the Fine Arts Department has already come forward with a plea.
"If you find gold there, please sell it to us," the department's director-general Anek Sihamat said yesterday.
Under the law, ancient artefacts belong to the state. However, he said, his department is willing to purchase these gold sheets.
Anek said gold sheets from the plot were between 700 and 800 years old and could be historically important.
He was speaking after examining some of the gold items.
"We believe they might have belonged to some wealthy merchants or city rulers in the past," he said. "The gold has been turned into thin sheets to make it easy to carry around. Goldsmiths must have worked on these sheets."
Wi Tapsaeng owns the palm plantation, which covers more than 10 rai in tambon Khao Chaison, Khao Chaison district.
After he discovered gold on the plot, locals flocked there and searched for gold, too.
Many neighbours have shown up with flower garlands and incense sticks, praying to be blessed and to be forgiven.
Sources said the gold sheets were similar to those used to adorn the Phra Borommathat Chedi, an historical site and sacred religious structure in Nakhon Si Thammarat.
"If these ancient gold sheets were really designed for the pagoda, no one should use it for any inappropriate purpose, or else he or she may be cursed," an expert in Nakhon Si Thammarat history said on condition of anonymity.
Anek said he had been contacting relevant officials to have Wi's plantation declared an "archaeological site".
Arnat Bamrungwong, who heads the Fine Arts Office 14, said relevant officials would do their best to protect the site from further damage. Nakhon Si Thammarat is under his office's jurisdiction.
Anek said he would also ask the Fourth Army Region for help secure the plantation for proper checks and excavation.