Last Friday the Guardian reported on a groundbreaking archaeological discovery of several vast medieval cities buried underneath Cambodia’s jungle, not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat. Amongst other things the discovery revealed elaborate water management systems that were constructed hundreds of years before historians believed the technology existed.
The ancient cities that were found are believed to be 900 to 1,400 years old, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. The archaeological surveys show that these cities would have made up the world’s largest empire in the 12th century. These astonishing findings are expected to challenge the theories on how the Khmer empire developed and dominated south-east Asia and what led to their eventual collapse.
“Our coverage of the post-Angkorian capitals also provides some fascinating new insights on the ‘collapse’ of Angkor. There’s an idea that somehow the Thais invaded and everyone fled down south – that didn’t happen, there are no cities [revealed by the aerial survey] that they fled to. It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse.” - Dr Damian Evans
The archaeological project, led by Australian archeologist Dr Damian Evans, used cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology LiDAR (light detecting and ranging) to make their discoveries. The project team fired lasers to the ground from a helicopter to produce extremely detailed imagery of the Earth’s surface, and then designed three-dimensional terrain models for the areas buried underneath the jungle.
“I think that these airborne laser discoveries mark the greatest advance in the past 50 or even 100 years of our knowledge of Angkorian civilization.” – Michael Coe, emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University and one of the world’s pre-eminent archaeologists, specialises in Angkor and the Khmer civilisation.