Climate change and the collapse of ancient civilisations

Siem Reap, CAMBODIA: An aerial view of the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province some 314 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, 02 March 2007. Angkor is at the very heart of Cambodia's identity, and with nearly two million tourists coming to the country in 2006 -- more than half of those visiting Angkor -- it is recognising the need to keep these precious ruins intact. Some 500 years after a failing irrigation system forced Angkor's rulers to abandon the sprawling Khmer capital, a lack of water is again threatening Cambodia's most famous temple complex. AFP PHOTO/ TANG CHHIN SOTHY (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)

Angkor takes front and center in this piece about how climate and environmental change can lead to the collapse of civilisations.

Siem Reap, CAMBODIA: An aerial view of the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province some 314 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, 02 March 2007.  Angkor is at the very heart of Cambodia's identity, and with nearly two million tourists coming to the country in 2006 -- more than half of those visiting Angkor -- it is recognising the need to keep these precious ruins intact. Some 500 years after a failing irrigation system forced Angkor's rulers to abandon the sprawling Khmer capital, a lack of water is again threatening Cambodia's most famous temple complex. AFP PHOTO/ TANG CHHIN SOTHY (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
Angkor Wat. Source: The Guardian 20150114

What the collapse of ancient capitals can teach us about the cities of today
The Guardian, 14 January 2015

After existing for more than a thousand years, the Mayan city of Tikal collapsed in the ninth century. At about the same time, halfway around the world, the city of Angkor was being founded. It would be the grand capital of the Khmer kingdom for six centuries before itself being abandoned.

The only contemporary account we have of Angkor is from a Chinese diplomat, Zhou Daguan, who arrived in 1296 and stayed almost a year. He tells us that the new temple of Bayon (all stone in what remains now, but still spectacular) had a gold tower, eight gold Buddhas, and a golden bridge flanked by gold lions leading to it. He writes of grand royal processions and firework displays, of a society with many slaves, open-air marketplaces with women vendors, and houses built of bamboo and thatch.

Angkor, the most extensive urban settlement of pre-industrial times, is now an archaeological park in northwestern Cambodia. Buses and trishaws ferry tourists between the ruins of some of the largest and most elaborate Hindu and Buddhist temples ever built. Some are only heaps of laterite blocks, but many are still astonishing: the towering lotus buds of Angkor Wat, the haunting Ta Prohm, in the clutches of time and strangler figs. Only recently have we begun to piece together how this and other ancient cities thrived and declined – their stories offer some intriguing lessons for cities today.

Full story here.

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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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