Archaeology of Cambodia

Cambodia is home to Angkor Wat and the great Khmer civilisation

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 (Updated 02 September 2021) Archaeology of Cambodia. Southeast Asian Archaeology. Available at: https://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/cambodia-archaeology/

This page covers the archaeology of Cambodia as a whole, and you can find more details about the other countries in their respective pages, or explore the Resource Guide for thematic areas. There’s also the Virtual Archaeology page where you can visit Southeast Asian archaeological sites online, learn something from the Online Lecture Library, or find recent academic papers for more up-to-date research.

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.

Recommended Books

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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.

Image Gallery

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Archaeology of Cambodia in the News

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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.

Looking for something specific? You can also use this search box:

Cambodian Archaeology Sites

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