Combination of stresses led to fall of Angkor

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It wasn’t the silting up of the canals, or the rapid deforestation to make way for the urban complex, or the climate change, but rather a combination of all these stresses that culminated in the abandonment of Angkor in the 17th century. This was the conclusion delivered by researchers working on the Greater Angkor Project at the University of Sydney, possibly putting this archaeological mystery to rest. (But if you’ve been a faithful reader of this blog, you’d have known this already, wouldn’t you?)

Faces at Bayon
photo credit: Mendhak

Urban sprawl hastened Angkor’s collapse
24 June 2009, The Australian
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Studying Angkor’s demise, archeologists warn of repeating the past

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The ecological demise of ancient and modern Angkor is discussed here as several archaeologists (including Roland Fletcher, pictured here, who has earlier spoken here, here and here) are featured talking about how the tourism explosion at Siem Reap and the elevated drain on water resources are described as an ‘ecological time bomb’.

Studying Angkor’s demise, archeologists warn of repeating the past
CBC.ca, 17 February 2008
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Responsible tourism in Angkor

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19 August 2007 (The Brisbane Times) – The article talks about the tourist effects in Siem Reap and how to practice responsible tourism in while visiting the temples of Angkor. I’ll be touching a little more on this when I write the next Adventures in Angkor installment at the end of the week.

Invasion of Angkor Wat
Cambodia’s jewel has survived a lot, but popularity may be its biggest challenge, Kerry van der Jagt writes.

Angelina Jolie has a lot to answer for. Ta Prohm, with its ancient stonework and massive tree roots, is now sadly known as the Tomb Raider temple. And the tour groups love it. I watch on as entire groups re-enact Lara Croft running out from the temple.

One at a time they sprint, leap and hurl themselves towards their tour guide – and his video camera.

More like a stampede of clearance-sale shoppers than responsible travellers.

Angkor Wat and the surrounding Angkor temple complex in Cambodia are without doubt one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.

Stretching over 400 square kilometres, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer empire, from the 9th to the 15thcentury.

In December 1992, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation declared Angkor a World Heritage Site.

In 1993, 7600 intrepid travellers visited Angkor, but by 2006 the number had skyrocketed to 1.6million. By 2010, 3 million people are expected to visit Cambodia.

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Climate change, over-building doomed Khmer kingdom

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14 March 2007 (The Australian) – An addendum to the previous post, The Australia fleshes out how climate change affected Angkor. Details of the uncovered water management system are revealed.

Climate change, over-building doomed Khmer kingdom

Two enormous masonry structures discovered near Cambodia’s fabled temples of Angkor Wat provide rock hard evidence that the once powerful Khmer kingdom vanished because of over-building, environmental damage and climate change.
One of the newfound structures was a 40m by 80m spillway. The other was a 100m by 40m outlet channel that, like the spillway, was part of the elaborate water system that served the sprawling agricultural city of Angkor.
“There are considerable implications for our understanding of our own water management systems,” cautioned Sydney University archaeologist Roland Fletcher, head of the team that discovered the huge objects.

“These two structures demonstrate very high levels of hydraulic engineering,” added Associate Professor Fletcher, director of the Greater Angkor Project, a five-year collaboration between the university, French researchers and the Cambodian agency managing Angkor.

“The Khmer engineers used their expertise in masonry construction to build these structures that managed water flows for the entire city,” he claimed.


Related Books:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)

Angkor "killed by climate change"

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14 March 2007 (News.com.au) – This isn’t exactly new news, because I posted something about this last year. Nonetheless, the story seems timely over the recent hype of climate change from Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

City ‘killed by climate change’

Climate change was a key factor in the abandonment of Cambodia’s ancient city of Angkor, Australian archaeologists said today.

The city, home to more than 700,000 people and capital of the Khmer empire from about 900AD, was mysteriously abandoned about 500 years ago.

It has long been believed the Khmers deserted the city after a Thai army ransacked it, but University of Sydney archaeologists working at the site say a water crisis was the real reason it was left to crumble.

“It now appears the city was abandoned during the transition from the medieval warm period to the little ice age,” Associate Professor of Archaeology Roland Fletcher said.

Prof Fletcher said that to sustain a population of 750,000, the Khmers had a meticulously organised water management system.

But blockages found in two large structures that controlled the water system in central Angkor suggested the network had begun to break down late in the city’s history.

Prof Fletcher said the discoveries complemented previous field work that had led his team to conclude the city was abandoned when new monsoon patterns, brought about by climate change, had made the site unsustainable.


Related Books:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)

Climate change could have killed Angkor

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22 July 2006 (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, citing Reuters; also featured in other news media) – A new hypothesis presented at an international conference on Angkor posits that climate change led to the relatively fast depopulation and abandonment of Angkor.

ABC, 22 July 2006

Climate change could have killed ancient city

A Sydney conference has heard that climate change led to the fall of the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor.

The theory has been presented to an international gathering under the patronage of UNESCO.

Associate Professor Fletcher believes the medieval mini ice age caused climatic instability that lead to water and sediment overwhelming Angkor’s delicately balanced infrastructure.


Related Books:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) by M. D. Coe
The Civilization of Angkor by C. Higham
The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia: From 10,000 B.C. to the Fall of Angkor by C. Higham

Colossal Angkor still inspires

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15 May 2006 (SBS Radio) – A podcast featuring Australian archaeologist Roland Fletcher talking about the colossal scale of the Angkor civilization.

Colossal Angkor still inspires

Dr Fletcher, along with Cambodian artist Srey Bandol, offers a unique look at this pre-industrial capital.

And both offer hints at how Cambodia has moved on from its past, and continues to do so.


Related Books:
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) by M. D. Coe
The Ancient Civilization of Angkor by C. Pym
The Civilization of Angkor by C. Higham