Australian archaeologists using cutting edge remote-sensing technology have made a remarkable discovery in Cambodia – a 1,200-year-old lost city that predates the Angkor Wat temple complex.
By April Holloway
June 16, 2013
Damian Evans, director of the University of Sydney’s archaeological research center in Cambodia, and a small team working in the Siem Reap region, were given approval to use Lidar laser technology in the remote jungles of Cambodia, the first time the airborne technology has been used for archaeological research in tropical Asia. It works by firing rapid laser pulses at the ground below and measuring the time each pulse takes to bounce back. By repeating the process, a complete picture of the terrain emerges.
The discovery came when the Lidar data emerged on a computer screen. “With this instrument – bang – all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed, which is just remarkable,” said Evans.
The amazing finding occurred after years of archaeological ground research to reveal Mahendraparvata, a lost mediaeval city where people lived on a mountain called Phnom Kulen, 350 years before the building of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex in north-western Cambodia. It was part of the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire that ruled much of Southeast Asia from about 800 to 1400 AD.
Using the lidar data, the team of archaeologists discovered the ruins of five previously unrecorded temples, a huge statue of Buddha, evidence of ancient canals and roads and hundreds of mysterious mounds spread across the city, possibly tombs where the dead were buried. They also found a cave with historically significant carvings that was used by holy hermits who were common during the Angkor period.
The lidar technology has opened up new and exciting possibilities for archaeological exploration. A village called Anlong Thom sat in the middle of the lost city, but not one of the 1200 villages had realised its existence. Now the lidar technology replaces the need for explorers and researchers to aimlessly hack their way through dense jungles. Instead they are led directly to sites of significance through the aerial mapping technology.
The research and excavation into the remarkable discovery of Mahendraparvata is only in its infancy and it is unknown what more the archaeologists will find there.
“Maybe what we are seeing was not the central part of the city, so there is a lot of work to be done to discover the extent of this civilization,” said Evans.