Archaeology of Cambodia

Cambodia is located in Mainland Southeast Asia, surrounded by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The archaeology of Cambodia has been studied greatly, mostly on the art and architecture of Angkor, but increasingly on pre-Angkorian and prehistoric sites such as Laang Spean. All three Unesco World Heritage Sites of Cambodia are archaeological sites: the famous Angkor Archaeological Park, Preah Vihear, and the Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk.

To cite this page: Tan, Noel Hidalgo (2021, Updated 9 March 2023) Archaeology of Cambodia. Southeast Asian Archaeology. Available at: https://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/cambodia-archaeology/
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Overview
Overview
Map
Map
Recommended Books and Readings
Recommended Books
Most Popular Posts
Most Popular Posts
News Archive
News Archive
Links to other websites
Links to other websites
Online Lecture Library
A searchable collection on publicly-available lectures
Virtual Archaeology
Archaeological sites and museums you can visit online
Archaeological Projects in Southeast Asia
A list of past and present archaeological project websites
Journals and Scholarly Research
Scholarly research and a list of Southeast Asian archaeology journals
Tools and Software
Field work equipment and digital tool recommendations, with many available for free.
Job postings, scholarships and funding opportunities
Job postings, scholarships and funding opportunities

Overview

While not as intensively studied as the later Khmer periods, there is enough evidence to show that people lived the region of what is now Cambodia in the prehistoric period. The cave of Laang Spean in Battambang province suggests that people have been utilising the cave over long period of time, with Pleistocene stone tools dating to 71,000 BP, Hoabinhian tools (5,000-11,000 BP) and Neolithic burials around 3,300 BP. More evidence of Neolithic occupation can be found at Samrong Sen in Kampong Chhnang Province where polished stone tools and bronze artefacts suggest occupation from 1,500 BCE to 500 BCE. Burials at Phum Snay in Banteay Meanchey province in northwestern Cambodia suggests a Bronze Age occupation between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE.

Chinese sources indicate the presence of a kingdom which they named Funan, around the Mekong Delta region from the first to sixth centuries CE. Archaeologial evidence in Oc Eo and Angkor Borei suggest that Funan was a rich trading polity reaching as far as Western India (as well as China) via the Red River Delta. The successor state of Chenla (also identified by Chinese sources) may have been a later Khmer vassal state, or more likely the collective name for a number of polities in the area.

The Sdok Kok Thom inscription indicates that in the year 802, a Chenla ruler named Jayavarman II was consecrated as a “universal monarch” (“cakravartin”) and established the Khmer Empire – now known as Angkor. The Khmer empire reached its zenith under Suryavarman II (1112-1150) who built Angkor Wat, and Jayavarman VII (1181-1220), who erected the famous Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, a masterpiece of Khmer architecture.

The Angkorian period ended 1431, traditionally associated with war against Ayutthaya. However, recent research has also shown other confounding factors such as drought and failure in the water management system. Over the 15th century, the capital in present-day Siem Reap was abandoned and moved southwards towards Phnom Penh. The modern history of Angkor is understood from the accounts of European explorers, archaeologists and missionaries who visited in the 18th century, including Chinese sailors and representatives of colonial powers. Through the work of French archaeologists, knowledge of Angkor spread throughout the world, but it is a common misconception that Angkor was a lost city that was rediscovered; there was always a degree of knowledge of its location and history among the people of Cambodia.

Archaeological work in Cambodia was conducted by French archaeologists under the École française d’Extrême-Orient between 1866 and 1930, and many sites were identified through their research, including Angkor. Research was interrupted during World War II and during the Cambodian Civil War. With the restoration of a stable government in the 1990s, archaeological work in Cambodia continues under the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

Today, much archaeological work is focused on the research, conservation of the Angkor monuments, including the Angkor Archaeological Park and Preah Vihear, and increasingly research is being conducted beyond the Angkor region and time-periods.

Notable Archaeological Sites in Cambodia

A great many number of archaeological sites are associated with the Angkor period and found within the Angkor Archaeological Park. Not all of these sites in this list are open to the public, and the locations marked on the map may not be exact. For more information about museums in Cambodia, check out the museum page here.

  • The Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Cambodian province of Siem Reap. The park contains the remains of the Khmer Empire, which flourished from the 9th to the 15th centuries. The most famous site within the park is Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. The park also includes the ruins of other temples, such as Bayon and Ta Prohm, as well as various other structures such as reservoirs and canals
  • Angkor Borei: Angkor Borei is an archaeological site located in southern Cambodia, near the modern-day town of Takeo. It was an important settlement in the region during the pre-Angkorian period, from the 5th to 8th centuries AD. Together with Phnom Da, they are considered as part of the earliest remains of Funan.
  • Angkor Thom: a large temple complex that houses several temples and archaeological structures such as the Bayon temple and the Terrace of Elephants.
  • Angkor Wat: A temple complex built in the 12th century and one of the most famous archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and is represented on the Cambodian flag.
  • Banteay Chhmar: This 12th-century temple complex is located in the northwestern part of Cambodia and is known for its large scale and well-preserved carvings.
  • Banteay Srei: Despite its small size, this 10th-century temple known for its intricate carvings.
  • Koh Ker: is a remote archaeological site located in northeastern Cambodia, and the capital of the Khmer Empire for a brief period during the 10th century. Inscribed into the Unesco World Heritage list in 2023.
  • Laang Spean: A limestone cave located in the Battambang province of Cambodia and an important site for understanding the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Cambodia and Southeast Asia.
  • Phnom Bakheng: an ancient temple-mountain built in the 9th century, located on a hilltop and provides a panoramic view of the Angkor Wat.
  • Phnom Da: This ancient temple complex is located in the southern part of Cambodia and is known for its unique design and intricate carvings. Together with Angkor Borei, they are considered as part of the earliest remains of Funan.
  • Phnom Kulen: This sacred mountain is located in the northern part of Cambodia and is known for its ancient temples and carvings, as well as its natural beauty. It is considered as the birthplace of Angkor.
  • Preah Vihear: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located on the border of Cambodia and Thailand and is known for its impressive landscape perched on the edge of a cliff.
  • Sambor Prei Kuk: This Unesco World Heritage Site complex of over 100 temples is located in the central part of Cambodia and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the country.
  • The Samrong Sen archaeological site is a prehistoric shell midden site first investigated in the 19th century known for its wealth of Neolithic stone tools and other faunal remains.
  • Ta Prohm: Iconic temple complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park that has been left largely overgrown by the jungle, giving visitors a sense of how the temples would have appeared when they were first rediscovered.

Recommended Books

There are a number of books relevant to the archaeology and history of Cambodia, and the list below is my personal recommendation based on what I have in my library or have read. Newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.

Last update on 2024-03-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Most Popular Posts

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Cambodian Archaeology in the News

The news reports indexed below usually link to external sites that were active at the time of posting; sometimes websites may be temporarily down or may have reorganised their underlying architecture or have even closed down – in these cases the links may not be available. Most of the news articles archived are in English; this is largely because I do not have a working competency in Khmer, although when I am made aware of stories in this and other languages I try to index them.

Cambodian Archaeology Websites