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Angkor Wat

Laser Technology Reveals Surprising New Features at Angkor


Utilising the latest cutting-edge technology, archaeologists studying Angkor Wat in northwestern Cambodia have made some surprising new findings, most significantly that the ancient Khmer Empire capital was much larger than previously thought.

Angkor, the famous capital of southeast Asia’s largest ancient empire, has been intensively studied by archaeologists over the decades, so much so that it was not thought that there was much left to find. But latest research has shown that the ancient city had many more secrets to reveal.

Led by archaeologist Damian Evans of the University of Sydney, Australia, a research team applied high-tech LiDAR (Laser Interferometry Detection and Ranging) scanning to gain a visual representation of the landscape of Angkor Wat below the heavily forested areas. What they found was remarkable.

“We found that this nicely formally planned grid extends for 35 square kilometres, rather than the 9 kilometres that had previously been mapped from the ground,” said Evans. “Angkor has been considered to be (among the) cities enclosed by moats or walls, but we found that the town area of the city grids extends far beyond the moat spaces.”

These results indicate that the city would have been capable of supporting a population of 750,000 to one million inhabitants, and at 35 square kilometres, the city covered an area the size of New York – an impressive feat in the ninth century.

A second highly significant finding to come out of LiDAR’s ability to create a precise map of the hidden city, was that Angkor was an incredibly well thought out city . The streets ran in a grid exactly east/west or north/south. Each city block was measured exactly 100 meters by 100 meters, with 4 dwellings and 4 rectangular ponds, each pond located north-east of each dwelling. The dwellings, elevated on earthen mounds, were higher than the surrounding rice fields, presumably so they wouldn’t flood during the rainy season. The roads were likewise elevated.

Other peculiar findings include a series of features which appear to be embankments, but layered out in a spiral pattern. At this stage it is unclear exactly what they were used for.

The implication of this research is that archaeologists may now have important clues regarding one of the biggest mysteries shrouding the ancient city – how Angkor met its end. “They overused the land and probably caused a great amount of erosion, clogged up the canals and the whole irrigation system would have collapsed,” said Evans. Scholars now theorize that as the city’s population grew, it became increasingly more difficult for the surrounding agriculture to support the urban population.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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