By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – An airborne laser scanning study has revealed “previously concealed urban networks” at the heart of what used to be the Khmer empire in Cambodia -- challenging previous theories about the scope and management of urban and water systems before its collapse, which was previously believed to have been around the 15th century.
The research, published Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science, will now provide archaeologists and anthropologists a deeper understanding of the way of life in and around existing temple complexes in northern Cambodia during that era.
Using Lidar technology, which involves scanning the ground from above using lasers, researchers were able to compile data that provides “a foundation for conducting the first highly-detailed landscape studies of those urban areas, in order to arrive at a more sophisticated understanding of chronology, environment and residential life,” the study said.
The scans reveal “an example of a very sophisticated urban water management system potentially dating from several hundred years earlier.”
Although the majority of structures that would have made up the now-hidden city were constructed out of wood, “the urban context of the monumental remains is relatively poorly understood.”
But with the new results revealing what was previously unseen underneath forestland, “the construction of these extended agro-urban environments, however, involved re-engineering the landscape on a scale perhaps unparalleled in the pre-industrial world.”
According to the report, “wooden neighbourhoods, for example, were built on top of mounds of earth designed to keep them above floodwaters in the wet season; many thousands of ponds and canals were excavated; and roads, field walls and dykes were made of earthen embankments.”
A call to author and researcher Damian Evans was unsuccessful Monday, but archaeological expert Chen Chanratana, president of the Kerdomnel Khmer Foundation, told Anadolu Agency in an email that the new findings had “excited” the archaeological community.
“It’s a very import result for Cambodian people to think about the new theory of the collapse of Khmer Empire and the move of capital from one to another place,” he wrote.
Using the Lidar technology, “they have found new quarries of sandstone where located between Beng Mealea temple and Phnom Kulen (from the foot until the top of mountain),” while the size of Phnom Kulen “was around 40km2 to 50km2” larger than previously thought, Chanratana said.
At the remote Banteay Chhmar temple, near the Thai border, “they found the connection between the outer of the temple and surrounding area which we could not see from the air,” he added.
Ultimately, Chanratana said the new findings “will challenge some of the beliefs about Angkorian history, especially the extension of the city to the Northern and Southern part of Angkor”.
It also provides a greater understanding of the sophisticated water-management systems that were put in place.
“It's very important for Cambodian people and the royal government to take action to preserve the site and restore some parts of the city in order to give some ideas to local people and young generations to learn about Cambodian history,” he said.