Unprecedented new details of medieval cities hidden under jungle in Cambodia near Angkor Wat have been revealed using lasers, archaeologists said on Sunday, shedding new light on the civilisation behind the world’s largest religious complex.
While the research has been going on for several years, the new findings uncover the sheer scale of the Khmer Empire’s urban sprawl and temple complexes to be significantly bigger than was previously thought.
The research, drawing on airborne laser scanning technology known as LIDAR, will be unveiled in full at the Royal Geographic Society in London on Monday by Australian archaeologist Damian Evans.
“We always imagined that their great cities surrounded the monuments in antiquity,” Evans told AFP.
“But now we can see them with incredible precision and detail, in some places for the very first time, but in most places where we already had a vague idea that cities must be there,” he added.
Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site seen as among the most important in southeast Asia, is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world.
It was constructed from the early to mid 1100s by King Suryavarman II at the height of the Khmer Empire’s political and military power and was among the largest pre-industrial cities in the world.
But scholars had long believed there was far more to the empire than just the Angkor complex.
The huge tranch of new data builds on scans that were made in 2012 that confirmed the existence of Mahendraparvata, an ancient temple city near Angkor Wat.
But it was only when the results of a larger survey in 2015 were analysed that the sheer scale of the new settlements became apparent.
To create the maps, archaeologists mounted a special laser on the underneath of a helicopter which scans the area and is able to see through obstructions like trees and vegetation.
Much of the cities surrounding the famed stone temples of the Khmer Empire, Evans explained, were made of wood and thatch which has long rotted away.
While the Khmer Empire was initially Hindu, it increasingly adopted Buddhism and both religions can be seen on display at the complex.
(Feature image source: AFP)