Mapping the water sources of Angkor

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A recent paper by Kasper Hanus and Damien Evans is featured by the Khmer Times – a discussion about population estimates of Angkor through measurements of the ponds in Angkor, a metric made easier to count due to their detection by LiDAR.

Lasers Used to Map Ancient Water at Angkor, Provides Clues on Population
Khmer Times, 04 January 2016

Imaging the Waters of Angkor: A Method for Semi-Automated Pond Extraction from LiDAR Data
DOI: 10.1002/arp.1530

The secret to the number of people who actually lived in the city center of Angkor Thom may lie not in the number of buildings but in the number and size of its ponds, according to a new archaeological study released last week. Until now, most research about the Angkor city center has focused on the grand temples, while the mundane details of everyday life – such as where the city’s residents got their water – have been ignored. This new study, published last week in Archaeological Prospection, finds secrets in these mundane details.

Since ponds were used as the water supply by the city’s residents, the team of researchers – led by Kasper Hanus of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland and Damian Evans of the University of Sydney – hypothesized that the number of ponds could provide a clue to the number of residents. “Small-scale ponds were a vital part of the water management system of Angkor,” the study said.

Counting the number of ponds that existed in the 14th century can be a difficult task, but using detailed maps created with airborne laser scanning, and making clever use of a depth mapping algorithm, the archaeological team was able to estimate the number of ponds in the area.

Full story here.

Trowulan's sacred watering holes

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The civilisation of Angkor is renowned for its water management system of canals, irrigation channels and reservoirs; but fewer know about similar capabilities found in east Java’s Majapahit. Candi Tikus and Kolam Segaran are two such monumental features found in Trowulan.

The peaceful pools of the ancients
The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2009
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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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Water woes pressure state of Angkor’s temples

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Angkor’s ecological time bomb is discussed in this article, making parallels between the theorised failure of the water management systems to the current pumping of underground water to support the modern city of Siem Reap. The former resulted in the fall of Angkor. Will the later result in the fall of the very monuments themselves?

Development pressures threaten Angkor Wat ruins [Link no longer active]
AP via CTV.ca, 13 February 2008
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Angkor Wat being loved to death

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12 April 2007 (The Daily Telegraph) – Every now and then, this blog features another article about how the massive number of visitors is a cause of concern to the Angkor Archaeological Park. This article further talks about one of the main sources of concern about the stability of Angkor – not the wearing down of stone, but the destabilisation of the underlying sand because of the rampant growth and water usage of nearby Siem Reap. The role of water management in the fall of medieval Angkor is an archaeological research question currently looked into (see here, here and here). I am planning a short trip up to Siem Reap in the middle of the year, and hopefully I can document first-hand the amount of tourist hordes and deterioration to the temples there.

Angkor Wat being loved to death

However, the battle to preserve Cambodia’s temples won’t necessarily be fought in their stone breezeways and intricately carved sanctuaries.

Rather, the bigger threat comes kilometres away, along Siem Reap town’s increasingly congested thoroughfares, where more than 250 guesthouses and hotels, including several sprawling resorts, have sprung up in recent years.

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.

Just as the ancient city’s waterways collapsed under the demands of a population of as many as a million, an unprecedented tourism boom is again sucking the area dry and risking the collapse of many of Angkor’s temples.

The sinking foundation and widening cracks between the carefully carved stones of Bayon temple, famous for the serene faces carved on its 54 towers, confirm what experts have long feared: one of Angkor’s best-known monuments is collapsing into the sandy ground around it.


Related Books:
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
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)