via phys.org, 14 April 2020: A feature on Dan Penny of the University of Sydney and his work reconstructing the ancient climate of Angkor.
Over five centuries, Angkor grew to cover more than a thousand square kilometers, comparable in size to modern day Los Angeles, though with a much lower population density.
The accepted view has been that Angkor collapsed suddenly in 1431, following an invasion by inhabitants of the powerful city of Ayutthaya, in modern day Thailand. Penny and his colleagues put this theory to the test when, in 2016, they took a dozen drill cores from the earth beneath Angkor’s temple moats.
From these cores Penny extracted microscopic evidence of past environmental change. In particular, he examined pollen grains from plants and charcoal derived from residential fires, while also measuring rates of erosion and sedimentation.
“We were looking for what people were doing in the landscape. How they used fire, how plants were changing, when occupation was intense and when it decreased,” he says. “We certainly didn’t find evidence of the sacking in 1431, and a sudden abandonment of the city. It was instead a very prolonged diminution in the commercial and ritual core of the city.”
Penny’s findings suggest the central city elite left Angkor gradually, attracted, perhaps, to the better located and more profitable trading centers on the Mekong Delta.