[Talk] Seeing Through the Forest: Lost Cities, Remote Sensing and LiDAR Applications in Archaeology

If anyone is in Singapore tomorrow, catch Dr Kyle Latinis’ talk at ISEAS

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is one of the newest remote sensing technologies to be used for archaeology and related sciences. Results are revolutionizing the field, especially among researchers studying ancient urban landscapes in Southeast Asia (The Guardian, 11 June 2016).

LiDAR applications digitally peel away forest canopies and vegetative cover resulting in sophisticated surface images and detailed topographic maps of natural and cultural landscapes. LiDAR data has been integral for recent research and training initiatives at the Nalanda–Sriwijaya Centre (NSC).

LiDAR abilities cannot be underestimated. However, there are limitations. Ground-truthing through archaeological surveys and excavations continue to play necessary and central roles.

The following discussion will introduce LiDAR technology, capabilities, and limits followed by examples of LiDAR application for two recent NSC projects: Mahendraparvata – the 9th century Angkorian capital city of Jayavarman II, legendary founder of the Angkorian empire; and Koh Ker [Chok Gargyar] – the mysterious 10th century Angkorian capital city of Jayavarman IV, often depicted as a rogue usurper king. Future NSC research possibilities using LiDAR applications for other Southeast Asia sites will also be introduced.

Source: Lecture: Seeing Through the Forest: Lost Cities, Remote Sensing and LiDAR Applications in Archaeology – ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

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

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.

Brahma heads returned to Cambodia

In addition to the statue of Rama, two more sculptures – heads of Brahma – from Koh Ker were returned to Cambodia last month.

Returned Brahma head from Koh Ker. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160331
Returned Brahma head from Koh Ker. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160331

More looted antiquities welcomed home
Phnom Penh Post, 31 March 2016

For the second time in less than a week, the National Museum held a ceremony yesterday marking the homecoming of priceless Angkorian artifacts looted during the civil war.

Two 10th-century Brahma heads, looted from a temple at the Koh Ker archaeological site in Preah Vihear, were added to the museum’s collection of antiquities, alongside a 10th-century Rama statue returned by an American museum on Monday.

The heads, which had formerly belonged to an unnamed private collector in Paris, were discovered by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong in 1994 while he was the Cambodian ambassador to France, according to the release.

Full story here.

Koh Ker Rama statue returns to Cambodia

The last Koh Ker statue not in a private collection has finally been returned to Cambodia by the Denver Art Museum in a ceremony last month.

Koh Ker statue returns to Cambodia. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160329
Koh Ker statue returns to Cambodia. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160329

Pomp greets Rama statue’s return from US
Phnom Penh Post, 29 March 2016

Ancient Khmer Rama Statue Officially Received by Government
Cambodia Daily, 29 March 2016

US museum returns 10th century Khmer statue to Cambodia
AP, via Washington Post, 28 March 2016

US museum returns ancient Hindu god statue to Cambodia
BBC News, 28 March 2016

US Museum Returns Stolen Rama Statue
Cambodia Daily, 29 February 2016

Cambodian warrior comes home: Denver Art Museum returns Khmer statue
The Art Newspaper, 26 February 2016

Recently returned after 30 years in a US museum, a priceless Angkorian statue looted from war-torn Cambodia in the early 1970s was feted at the Council of Ministers yesterday.

The 1.6-metre-tall 10th-century Torso of Rama statue was returned by the Denver Art Museum after archaeologists from the Apsara Authority were able to prove that the artefact was looted from the Prasat Chen temple in Preah Vihear province, National Museum director Kong Vireak said yesterday.

The statue’s return, which actually took place in late February, was officially marked in a handover ceremony at the Council of Ministers yesterday morning.

Using forensic techniques, the archaeologists demonstrated that the statue, which is missing its head, arms and feet, was originally connected with a plinth found at the Koh Ker archaeological site, which was heavily looted during the civil war.

The Denver Art Museum had reportedly purchased the footless statue in 1986 from the Doris Weiner Gallery in New York.

Full story here.

The last Koh Ker piece will return soon

The last Koh Ker piece that is publicly accounted for, housed in the Denver Art Museum, is the process of being repatriated – undoubtedly due to the spate of high profile returns by museums abroad.

Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160130
Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160130

Last Koh Ker piece coming home
Phnom Penh Post, 30 January 2016

In Visit, US Secretary of State Gave a Nod to Cambodian Antiquities
VOA Khmer, 29 January 2016

Cambodia is set to reclaim the last of the statues looted from the Koh Ker complex known to be kept in public collections, with a US museum agreeing to relinquish the piece from its permanent collection.

The statue of the warrior god Rama has been held by the Denver Art Museum for nearly 30 years. However, museum representatives said this week that the artefact will soon make its return to Cambodia, though an official agreement has not yet been reached.

The Rama torso – missing its head and its feet – remained on display in the museum’s Asian art gallery until last month.

“The Denver Art Museum is currently in the process of returning the 10th century Khmer sandstone sculpture to the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Christoph Heinrich, the museum’s director, wrote in an email to Post Weekend.

Full story here and here.

Singapore-Cambodia Koh Ker Field School

Applications are open for the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre Field School in Koh Ker, scheduled for December.

Koh Ker, Prasat Thom

Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre Archaeological Field School 2015
02-22 Dec 2015

Applications are being sought from students interested in pursuing a three week intensive program focused on culture, heritage and archaeology in Cambodia. The Field School will begin in Phnom Penh and conclude in Singapore. Students will participate in lectures, field training (survey, excavations, local respondent interviews), analysis, and site visits. Students will produce a final report and group presentation. Partial lodging and travel subsidies will be provided for 10 applicants (subject to change).

Applicants for the Field School should be enrolled in a postgraduate program or be in their final year of undergraduate study. Preferred fields of specialization include: archaeology, anthropology, heritage and culture, history, art history, and museum studies. Applicants should be citizens of East Asia Summit (EAS) countries. The 18 East Asia Summit countries are: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam. Language of instruction: English.

Full details here.

The voices arguing against repatriation

Coming from a region that falls victim to frequent looting of archaeological sites, I personally find it hard to agree against the repatriation of artefacts that have been proven to be stolen, such as the case of the Koh Ker sculpture that still remains in the Denver Museum of Art.

Experts disagree over antiquity repatriations
Phnom Penh Post, 23 May 2015

While an unknown number of looted Cambodian artefacts – mostly taken during the turbulent 1970s and ’80s – are scattered in private collections around the world, a number have found their way into major museums’ exhibits. The recently returned Hanuman statue, for instance, was one of nine statues looted from Prasat Chen temple in the Koh Ker temple complex.

Four of the other Prasat Chen statues have been repatriated by various US museums and auction houses in recent years, three are unaccounted for, while a torso of the Hindu god Rama remains in the Denver Museum of Art.

“I would be very grateful to these private owners, if they read these lines, to give them back generously to Cambodia to reunify the nine sculptures of this unique but incomplete ensemble depicting the Mahabharata,” said Anne LeMaistre, head of UNESCO in Cambodia.

Full story here.

Another Prasat Chen statue returned – Hanuman repatriated to Cambodia

It was a time for celebration for Cambodia last week when another statue from the Prasat Chen group in Koh Ker was returned to the country from the Cleveland Museum of Art, after it was established that the statue was illegally removed and therefore looted.

Returned Hanuman statue. Source: Cambodia Daily 20150513
Returned Hanuman statue. Source: Cambodia Daily 20150513

US Museum returns looted statue to Cambodia
AFP, via Yahoo News, 11 May 2015

US Museum Returns Hanuman Statue to Cambodia
Cambodia Daily, 11 May 2015

Cambodia welcomes home statue returned by Cleveland Museum of Art
AP, via the News Herald.com, 12 May 2015

Hanuman statue returned (video)
Phnom Penh Post, 13 May 2015

Looted statue comes home
Phnom Penh Post, 13 May 2015

Looted Statue Officially Returned to Cambodia
Cambodia Daily, 13 May 2015

Nearly five decades after a centuries-old statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman was looted from a temple in Cambodia, the Cleveland Museum of Art officially handed it over to the government Tuesday during a ceremony at the Council of Ministers building.

Once part of a depiction of an epic battle between two other monkey deities, the statue was carved in the 10th century and housed at Preah Vihear province’s Prasat Chen temple, which was built as part of the one-time Khmer Empire capital of Koh Ker.

Full story here.

Public Lecture: Koh Ker, the City of Linga during the Reign of King Jayavarman IV

For readers in Phnom Penh, a lecture by Dr Chen Chenratana on the ancient city of Koh Ker.

Koh Ker, Prasat Thom

Koh Ker, the City of Linga during the Reign of King Jayavarman IV
Chen Chenratana
Zaman University
21 March 2015, 9-11am
For online registration: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1YKRHe2QUEkqRhL2zenV7rf_W3O8Cd9DhH6j1xNAcuFc/viewform

In 10th Century Cambodia, King Jayavarman IV moved the capital city to Chok Gargyarin the greater Angkor area, now known as Koh Ker, where he was to stay for twenty years. It was there that Jayavarman IV built religious monuments dedicated to Hinduism as well as large scale infrastructure (i.e. irrigation system, roads) to support the local economy. The concept of urban planning was also developed fully during his reign since the capital was organized in such a way as to consolidate the king’s political power and ensure the country’s stability, security and prosperity.
This capital city lasted for 20 years, however. It was immediately abandoned after his death. Historians are still debating the underlying motivations behind Jayavarman IV’s choice of Koh Ker and the major political events that took place during his reign.