via Sapiens, 14 May 2020: Interesting piece about Sarah Klassen and Damian Evans’ recent work in Angkor, combining LiDAR, machine learning, inscriptions and architecture to posit the factors that led to Angkor’s demise – and what it might mean for us today.
Our results indicated that, unsurprisingly, the construction of small temples blossomed around new water sources: Small-holder farms took advantage of good growing conditions fostered by various kings’ construction of large hydraulic features.
What was strange was that we found a severe decrease in the number of new temple foundations on the landscape during the 11th and 12th centuries, right when the kings were constructing major projects like Angkor Wat, hospitals, and extensive road networks.
Why was that?
We pondered this strange observation for months, until we had a eureka moment. We were at a conference in Poznan, Poland, in July 2017, where me met colleagues who had noted an intriguing pattern in inscriptions relating to land ownership and disputes.
The landowners mentioned in the earlier inscriptions tended to be of all ranks in society, from lower class to higher class. However, by the mid-11th century, free males of middle rank (vāp) were no longer referenced in the context of land transactions or the foundations for new temples. By the 12th century, even free males of higher rank (loñ) were referred to as temple personnel or workers rather than as landowners. As we published in a paper this year, it seems the land was increasingly concentrated into the hands of the evermore wealthy. First the middle class was squeezed out, and then even the upper class lost their lands to the state.