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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh Memorial Stupa

5,000 skulls in memorial to those killed by the Khmer Rouge. 

After the Cambodian Civil War ended, the vicious rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began.

From 1975-1979, they killed 1.7 million people out of a population of 8 million. Many of those murdered were buried in mass graves in what has come to be dubbed the “killing fields.”

In Phnom Penh at Choeung Ek, a memorial was erected to remember those who were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. At the site, the remains of an estimated 10,000 people were found. The memorial was then constructed so as not to obscure the facts, but to show the grisly and honest truth.

Designed in the style of a Buddhist stupa, the Choeung Ek memorial has glass sides, and is comprised of multiple layers of human skulls. Totaling 5,000 of those executed at the site, the skulls are a harsh reminder of a genocide that took place only 40 years ago. The memorial is particularly disturbing upon closer examination of the skulls, many of which bear marks of the trauma they suffered before their execution.

Along with the stupa, Choeung Ek still has a number of pits that were used as mass graves, and some human bones can still be seen in the area. The Cambodian government encourages visitors to see the site, and never forget the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

For more information on amazing ossuaries, charnels and skeletal remains around the world, visit Paul Koudounaris’ website Empire de la Mort, or purchase his definitive book The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses.

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