Dendrochronology sheds light on Angkor's collapse

Stories about Angkor’s collapse makes it sound like there was one event that caused a civilisation to fall; I rather think there’s usually a confluence of factors. In Angkor, we can now add drought to the list which includes deforestation, breakdown of the water management system and attacks from neighbouring Siam. The conclusion of drought comes from a dendrochronology analysis, or the dating by tree rings, which is in itself a surprising technique because tree-ring dating is more reliable in temeperate climates where the seasonal changes produce more visible tree rings. I believe this may be first, or at the very least one of the few, instance where dendrochronology has been used in Southeast Asia (corrections, of course, are very welcome).

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photo credit: Hazel Motes

Drought might have collapsed Cambodian Angkor city
AP, 18 February 2009

Cambodia’s great ancient city of Angkor Wat may have been brought to an end some 600 years ago by sudden weather changes that caused massive drought — not just by rival Siamese forces and widespread deforestation as previously suspected, a researcher said Tuesday.

Brendan M. Buckley said bands from tree rings that he and his colleagues examined show that Southeast Asia was hit by a severe and prolonged drought from 1415 until 1439, coinciding with the period during which many archeologists believe Angkor collapsed.

Buckley, one of the world’s top tree ring experts, has spent the past 16 years taking core samples from trees across Southeast Asia to build a record of the region’s climate dating back hundreds of years.

Buckley — who spoke on the sidelines of a three-day climate conference in Vietnam_ said his data helped identify at least four mega-droughts in Southeast Asia dating back 722 years.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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