The hidden paintings discovered at ancient temple of Angkor Wat
A recent study published in the journal Antiquity revealed more than 200 paintings dating to the 16th century, which were recently discovered at Cambodia’s Temple of Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument. The spectacular wall art is invisible to the naked eye, but was uncovered in all its majesty thanks to a digital technique which exaggerates subtle colour differences, according to a report in Live Science .
Built between the 9th and 15th centuries by Khmer kings, the Angkor region in Cambodia was part of the powerful Khmer Empire, which once included parts of present-day Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The city of Angkor was a city of 1,000,000 people, with a complex irrigation system, paved roads and beautiful buildings, including the spectacular Angkor Wat , an enormous three level pyramid surrounded by water. It was built to represent the ‘home of the gods’, Mount Meru, a mythical sacred mountain in Hindu mythology which is considered to be the residence of the god Brahma and the Devas. The Angkor complex is the largest and most complex known network of monuments ever constructed.
Angkor Wat. Photo source: Wikipedia
The hidden paintings at Angkor Wat were discovered when Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock art researcher at Australian National University in Canberra, was working on an excavation at Angkor Wat and noticed very subtle traces of paint, although no images could be made out. Tan took photographs of the areas of pigment and then digitally enhanced them using a technique called decorrelation stretch analysis. He was both shocked and delighted when he the enhancement revealed detailed paintings of elephants, lions, deities, boats, buildings orchestral ensembles and people riding horses.
An elaborate scene of a traditional Khmer musical ensemble known as the pinpeat, which is made up of different gongs, xylophones, wind instruments and other percussion instruments. Credit: Antiquity
Though researchers don't know exactly when the paintings were created, Tan speculated that the most elaborate artworks may have been commissioned by Cambodia's King Ang Chan, who made an effort to restore the temple during his reign between 1528 and 1566. During this time, unfinished carvings were completed and Angkor Wat began its transformation into a Buddhist pilgrimage site.
“The paintings found at Angkor Wat seem to belong to a specific phase of the temple’s history in the 16th century A.D. when it was converted from a Vishnavaite Hindu use to Theravada Buddhist,” wrote Tan in his published paper.
“Vishnavaite” refers to the fact that the temple was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It might have served as a mausoleum when it was first built during the 12th century reign of Suryavarman II (1113–1150 A.D.). Theravada is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism.
An intricate scene featuring people riding horses between two structures, possibly temples. Credit: Antiquity
Featured image: Many boats were depicted in the paintings, and always with red pigment. Credit: Antiquity