Lasers find lost Cambodian empire

Guardian reports on multiple medieval Cambodian cities that had been forgotten – evidence of an entire lost empire just discovered via LIDAR scans:

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Some experts believe that the recently analysed data – captured in 2015 during the most extensive airborne study ever undertaken by an archaeological project, covering 734 sq miles (1,901 sq km) – shows that the colossal, densely populated cities would have constituted the largest empire on earth at the time of its peak in the 12th century.

Evans said: “We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there – at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and, it turns out, we uncovered only a part of Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen [in the 2012 survey] … this time we got the whole deal and it’s big, the size of Phnom Penh big.”

Dr Peter Sharrock, who is on the south-east Asian board at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies and has a decades-long connection to Cambodia, said the findings showed “clear data for the first time of dense populations settled in and around all ancient Khmer temples”.

“This urban and rural landscape, linked by road and canal networks, now seems to have constituted the largest empire on earth in the 12th century,” Sharrock said.

Dr Martin Polkinghorne, a research fellow in the department of archaeology at Adelaide’s Flinders University who is conducting a joint research project on Longvek and Oudong, the post-Angkorian capitals, said his team would use the data during excavations scheduled until 2019 to understand the cities.

“The decline of Angkor is among the most significant events in the history of south-east Asia, but we do not have a precise date for the event,” Polkinghorne said. “By using lidar to guide excavations on the capitals of Cambodia that followed we can determine when the kings of Angkor moved south and clarify the end of Angkor.

“Cambodia after Angkor is customarily understood in terms of loss, retreat and absence; a dark age,” he said. “Yet, Cambodia was alive with activity after Angkor. South-east Asia was the hub of international trade between east and west. Using the lidar at Longvek and Oudong in combination with conventional archaeology we will reveal the dark age as equally rich, complex and diverse.”