Lidar reveals more, much more, of the cities of Angkor

Areas scanned in 2012 and 2015. Source: Journal of Archaeological Science

A new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science has been grabbing the headlines in the last few days: the first insights from the Lidar acquisition of Angkor. It is the most extensive use of Lidar in an archaeological context to date, which brings to greater clarity the urban sprawl of Phnom Kulen, Banteay Chhmar, the Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, Sambor Prei Kuk, Longvek and Oudong. Combined with the earlier acquisition of the core Angkor area in 2012, the Lidar data has uncovered a tremendous amount of information about settlement patterns in these areas.

The data gathered presents a big-picture view of several themes of interest: population flows, urban centres, water management and collapse, and provides starting points for many of these future lines of inquiry. To be sure, the patterns in landscape and features uncovered by the Lidar is spectacular, but many of these features will need to be ‘ground-truthed’ and investigated in real life. (Alison has a good commentary about the potentials and limitations of the Lidar data). All in all, a very exciting start to what is surely a new phase of archaeological understanding of Angkor, and hopefully one with repercussions to the rest of the region as well!

Areas scanned in 2012 and 2015. Source: Journal of Archaeological Science
Areas scanned in 2012 and 2015. Source: Journal of Archaeological Science

Airborne laser scanning as a method for exploring long-term socio-ecological dynamics in Cambodia
Journal of Archaeological Science, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2016.05.009

Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle
The Guardian, 11 June 2016

Medieval cities hidden under jungle in Cambodia revealed using lasers, archaeologists say
AFP, via ABC News, 12 June 2016

New research reveals further secrets of Khmer history
Phnom Penh Post, 13 June 2016

Ancient urban networks around Angkor Wat discovered
AP, via Jakarta Post, 13 June 2016

New technology reveals cities hidden in Cambodian vegetation for thousands of years
Washington Post, 13 June 2016

Archaeologists Reveal Vast, New Medieval Cities In Cambodia
Tech Times, 13 June 2016

Jungle Of Cambodia Reveals Multiple Cities Between 900 to 1400 Years Old
Science World Report, 13 June 2016

Abstract:

Early Khmer societies developed extensive settlement complexes that were largely made of non-durable materials. These fragile urban areas perished many centuries ago, and thus a century and a half of scholarly research has focussed on the more durable components of Khmer culture, in particular the famous temples and the texts and works of art that are normally found within them. In recent years however there has been a considerable effort to broaden the perspective beyond conventional approaches to Khmer history and archaeology. Remarkable advances have been made in the domain of remote sensing and archaeological mapping, including the application of advanced geospatial techniques such as airborne laser scanning within studies of heritage landscapes at Angkor and beyond. This article describes the most recent applications of the technology in Cambodia, including the results of a newly-completed campaign of airborne laser scanning in 2015—the most extensive acquisition ever undertaken by an archaeological project—and underscores the importance of using these methods as part of a problem-oriented research program that speaks to broader issues within history and archaeology.

Article link

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Link to Guardian article 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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