[Paper] The demise of Angkor: Systemic vulnerability of urban infrastructure to climatic variations

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A new paper in Science Advances by Penny et al. suggests that climatic fluctuations which stressed Angkor’s urban hydraulic system may have ultimately contributed to the city’s ‘demise’. The conclusions were reached from computer simulations modelling the effect of monsoon rains and droughts onto Angkor’s urban infrastructure.

Complex infrastructural networks provide critical services to cities but can be vulnerable to external stresses, including climatic variability. This vulnerability has also challenged past urban settlements, but its role in cases of historic urban demise has not been precisely documented. We transform archeological data from the medieval Cambodian city of Angkor into a numerical model that allows us to quantify topological damage to critical urban infrastructure resulting from climatic variability. Our model reveals unstable behavior in which extensive and cascading damage to infrastructure occurs in response to flooding within Angkor’s urban water management system. The likelihood and extent of the cascading failure abruptly grow with the magnitude of flooding relative to normal flows in the system. Our results support the hypothesis that systemic infrastructural vulnerability, coupled with abrupt climatic variation, contributed to the demise of the city. The factors behind Angkor’s demise are analogous to challenges faced by modern urban communities struggling with complex critical infrastructure.

Source: The demise of Angkor: Systemic vulnerability of urban infrastructure to climatic variations | Science Advances

New Paper: Evidence for the breakdown of an Angkorian hydraulic system, and its historical implications for understanding the Khmer Empire

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New paper by Lustig et al. in JAS: Reports

This paper examines the construction and design of a 7-km long embankment, probably built for King Jayavarman IV between 928 and 941 CE, as part of a new capital. We calculate that the capacities of the outlets were too small, and conclude that the embankment failed, probably within a decade of construction, so that the benefits of the reservoir stored by the embankment and the access road on top of it were lessened substantially. We explain how the design was sub-optimal for construction, and that while the layout had a high aesthetic impact, the processes for ensuring structural integrity were poor. Simple and inexpensive steps to secure the weir were not undertaken. We speculate that this early failure may have contributed to the decision to return the royal court and the capital of the Khmer Empire to the Angkor region, marking a critically important juncture in regional history.

Evidence for the breakdown of an Angkorian hydraulic system, and its historical implications for understanding the Khmer Empire
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2017.11.014