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Tuesday, 30th August 2016

Laser technology reveals extent of Cambodia's hidden medieval cities

While Angkor Wat is one of the most famous sites in Cambodia, it turns out that the temple city is not the only settlement of its kind in the area. Many previously unknown cities dating back to the medieval period have now been discovered due to groundbreaking advances in technology.

Multiple cities have been found by archaeologists using airborne laser scanning systems, offering the potential to change the perceptions of civilisations in this part of the world forever. They vary in age, dating back between 900 and 1,400 years, but are all located underneath the forest floor.

Some of the cities that have been discovered are larger than modern day Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. The data suggests the empire could have been the biggest in the world at the time of its prominence in the 12th century.

Dr Damian Evans, an archaeologist working on the project, had his findings published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. His 2015 light detection and ranging (lidar) survey, from which the data has been analysed, has brought much more to light than his 2012 version of the project.

He told The Guardian: “We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there – at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and, it turns out, we uncovered only a part of Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen [in the 2012 survey] … this time we got the whole deal and it’s big, the size of Phnom Penh big.”

The 2012 lidar survey showed that there was a city hidden beneath Mount Kulen, as experts had often thought may be the case. Its sheer size did not become apparent until the latest project was completed and the results analysed, with a complex urban landscape connecting the temple cities also coming to light.

Among the discoveries were elaborate water systems that historians had no believed were invented until hundreds of years after these examples were built. This brings the roles of water management and climate change into the study of the Khmer empire and its subsequent decline in the 15th century.

It was previously thought that the Angkorian collapse occurred when the Thais invaded and the inhabitants fled to the south. This appears to have been disproved by the aerial survey, as it shows there are no cities hidden in this region to which they could have escaped.

The technology deployed by archaeologists to make the new discoveries involved lasers being fired at the ground from a helicopter. This produced a detailed image of the surface of the earth, identifying individual objects and buildings, as well as providing a better picture of the entire region.

It is generally considered throughout the archaeological world that these findings are the most significant in recent years. They are likely to inform future projects and discoveries into a fascinating civilisation that is yet to give up all of its secrets.



Related news stories:
Eat your way through Luang Prabang?s night market (26th May 2016)
Why has Laotian food not been widely exported to the rest of the world? (2nd April 2015)
Top tips for taking the Reunification Express (19th February 2015)
5 things you didn't know about Cambodia (12th July 2016)