Lost City of Khmer Empire Finally Found in Cambodia!

Lost City of Khmer Empire Finally Found in Cambodia!


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Ancient Cambodia’s Mahendraparvata, one of the first Angkorian capital cities of the 9th to 15th century Khmer Empire, has finally been located to the northeast of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Archaeological evidence of this lost city has previously been restricted to a few apparently isolated shrines but airborne lidar scanning , combined with ground-based surveying techniques, have identified an “extended urban network” dating from the 9th century AD which archaeologists say is the city of Mahendraparvata.

An oblique aerial view of the Phnom Kulen plateau and Mahendraparvata. Source: Archaeology Development Foundation/ Antiquity Publications Ltd .

Scanning the Mahendraparvata City Grid

This new lidar research project was funded by the Archaeology and Development Foundation and by the European Research Council (ERC) as part of the Khmer Archaeology Lidar Consortium and the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative . And among the hundreds of new observations presented in the scientists paper, which was published in the journal Antiquity, the jewel in the researcher’s crown was locating Mahendraparvata, a capital city of the Khmer Empire dating from the 8th to 9th century AD.

Mahendraparvata, a capital city of the Khmer Empire dating from the 8th to 9th century AD. (Evans / Antiquity Publications Ltd )

The lidar scans identified a vast centrally planned urban area encompassing about 15.4 - 19.3 square miles (40 - 50 square kilometers) on the plateau and Mahendraparvata represents the first large-scale “grid city” built by the Khmer Empire on the Phnom Kulen massif . Furthermore, the city, which predates the famous temple complex of Angkor Wat in northwest Cambodia, that was ruled over by King Jayavarman II , had a complex network of major thoroughfares dividing the central zone into a grid system with land parceling and subdivided city blocks.

“Totally Unique” In The Khmer Empire

Across the city grid the scans found a series of both civic and spiritual architectural installations, for example, a series of shrines, mounds, ponds, a large water-management system of dams and a major unfinished reservoir surround an administrative center, a royal palace, and a massive state pyramid-temple.

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Map of the central grid of Mahendraparvata on top of a lidar-derived hillshade model. (Evans / Antiquity Publications Ltd )

But even with this new evidence, in their paper the archaeologists show caution at jumping to the conclusion of the prevailing ‘ hydraulic city ’ theory, as the water channels don’t seem to be designed for irrigated rice agriculture and it is more probable that Mahendraparvata was a dedicated seat of civic and spiritual power. While Mahendraparvata has an extended city grid the archaeologists saw no attempt to define a central area with a wall or moat, like is seen at Angkor and all later Khmer cities and this is “totally unique” in the Khmer world .

Axis and orientations of the central pyramid, reservoir, and associated shrines at Koh Ker (top) and Mahendraparvata (bottom). (Evans / Antiquity Publications Ltd )

If fact, this style of urban development is consistent with other recent work on “tropical urbanism” in the Khmer and Maya homelands and from the new “ landscape-scale perspective ” which was offered by lidar, the scientists now consider the city not as an organized geometric space, but instead as components of a “messy and complex continuum” of urban and rural space.

Mahendraparvata’s Size Double that of Cambodia’s Largest Ancient City

This is not the first time lost cities have been found in Cambodia with lidar scanning as in 2016 an article in the Guardian discussed archaeologists finding “multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities” not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat . At the time, Australian archaeologist Dr. Damian Evans announced that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology had 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 .

An example of a newly documented temple site in the forests of the Phnom Kulen region. (Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative / Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Dr. Mitch Hendrickson, the director of the industries of the Angkor project and assistant professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Illinois, said the initial survey had been a “major game-changer” in understanding how the Angkorian Khmer people built, modified, and lived in their cities. Before 2016 it was known that Preah Khan of Kompong Svay was significant, but it was established as the largest complex ever built during the Angkorian period at 8.5 square miles (22 square kilometers), but Mahendraparvata is double this at 15.4 - 19.3 square miles (40 - 50 square kilometers).

Double Barrel Approach to Studying Mahendraparvata

Now that scientists have completed their lidar coverage of the forested Angkor region, the work described in this paper effectively draws 150 years of archaeological mapping work in the Greater Angkor region to a close and sets the stage for what the researchers are calling a more “sophisticated spatiotemporal modeling of urban form”.

And the scientists say that by blending data gathered from Angkorian household archaeology with aerial scanning , finer-grained demographic models can be built which might finally resolve some of the outstanding questions concerning the origins of Angkor: how it expanded, collapsed, and was rebuilt over the centuries becoming one of the largest civilizations of the ancient world.

The original report is available from Antiquity Journal, DOI: https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2019.133


Ancient “Lost City” Of Khmer Empire Found Hidden In Cambodian Jungle

Scientists have finally rediscovered the “lost city of Cambodia”. Officially called Mahendraparvata, it was an early Angkorian capital city and one of the first capitals of the Khmer Empire – a Hindu-Buddhist regime that was around from the 9 th to the 15 th centuries and was located in Southeast Asia.

While archaeologists and historians have known about the ancient city of Mahendraparvata for several decades, they didn’t know exactly where it was located until now. Thanks to airborne laser scanning (or Lidar) as well as ground surveys, an international team of researchers were able to locate the ancient lost city hidden beneath the Cambodian jungle. More precisely, the city was found in the Phnom Kulen plateau which is located to the north-east of Angkor.

According to their paper, “The mountainous region of Phnom Kulen has, to date, received strikingly little attention.” It went on to read, “It is almost entirely missing from archaeological maps, except as a scatter of points denoting the remains of some brick temples.” The researchers went into further details on their findings in their paper which can be read in full here.

Between 2012 and 2017, the team conducted several Lidar survey flights over that area and were able to find numerous archaeological features that hadn’t been noticed during the ground surveys. They noticed several features from the lost city that was around 50 square kilometers and were laid out in a grid-like pattern of linear axes. The researchers explained it further by stating, “Dams, reservoir walls and the enclosure walls of temples, neighborhoods and even the royal palace abut or coincide with the embanked linear features.”

Jean-Baptiste Chevance, who is from the Archaeology and Development Foundation in the UK as well as the first author of paper, told Newsweek, “The Ancient Khmer modified the landscape, shaping features on a very large scale – ponds, reservoirs, canals, roads, temples, rice fields, et cetera.” He went on to say, “However, the dense forest often covering the areas of interest is a main constraint to investigating them.”

While the city was designed in an elaborate and sophisticated way, it did not last long as the Khmer Empire moved its important operations to Angkor which was their new capital city. Team member Damian Evans, who is from the French School of the Far East, told New Scientist, “The city may not have lasted for centuries, or perhaps even decades,” adding, “But the cultural and religious significance of the place has lasted right up until the present day.” An aerial view of Mahendraparvata as well as a photo of a temple site can be seen here.


Ancient 'lost city' of the Khmer Empire uncovered in Cambodia

A lion monolith on Phnom Kulen, Cambodia, where scientists have identified the ancient city of Mahendraparvata.

Researchers have identified the elusive ancient "lost city" of Cambodia for the first time, according to a report published Tuesday.

In a project that has spanned years, an international group of scientists used aerial laser scans and ground-based surveying to map Mahendraparvata, or the Mountain of Indra, King of the Gods.

Mahendraparvata was one of the first capitals in the Khmer Empire, which lasted from the 9th to 15th centuries AD, but much of what we know come from inscriptions recovered from other sites. Scientists theorized that the city was located on the Phnom Kulen plateau, about 48 kilometers (about 30 miles) north of Siem Reap, but it was difficult to find evidence. The plateau was remote, inaccessible, covered with vegetation, and potentially home to landmines installed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Shrouded in mystery for decades, Mahendraparvata has been dubbed the "lost city." Now, scientists say they have identified it for certain.

"Here, we confirm the hypothesis, based on this accumulated body of evidence, that Mahendraparvata -- the eighth- to ninth-century AD capital of the Khmer Empire -- was located on the Phnom Kulen massif," said the report, which was published in the journal Antiquity.

The researchers used airborne laser scanning that had a "unique ability to 'see through' vegetation and provide high-resolution models of the forest floor," the report said.

They had to map the area in two separate operations -- first in 2012, covering about 37 square kilometers (about 9,143 acres), and again in 2015, covering the entire mountain range, an area of 975 square kilometers (240,928 acres).

The results of the aerial mapping, along with information collected by field investigations, were then used to create a map that shows the newly discovered main paths and coordinate axes. The map details the location of features like an unfinished reservoir, several dams, the enclosure walls of temples, and even a palace.

A map of the "lost city" of Mahendraparvata in Phnom Kulen, Cambodia.

These discoveries open the door to learning more about the Khmer Empire and the Angkor region. The map shows that the city used urban planning, a "sophisticated hydraulic system," and other innovations, the report said.

One striking discovery was that the city was built on linear axes that roughly correspond with the cardinal directions, the report said -- like an early version of the modern city grid system.

Prior to that period of time, human settlements in the area had no formal grid, no clear boundaries, and seem to have developed organically without planning -- meaning Mahendraparvata is the first known large grid city in the Khmer world.

"The work described here effectively draws to a close 150 years of archaeological mapping work in the Greater Angkor region and sets the stage for more sophisticated spatio-temporal modelling of urban form," the report said.

Angkor was the better-known capital of the Khmer Empire, which once governed much of modern-day Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos as well as parts of southern China and Myanmar, and, of course, Cambodia itself.


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It was also believed the area was littered with landmines leftover from the Khmer Rouge, who occupied the Phnom Kulen from the early 1970s until the late 1990s.

The researchers, with the use of aerial laser scanning known as lidar, were able to find evidence of a 'centrally planned urban area' which spanned 40 to 50 square kilometres on the plateau.

Mahendraparvata was said to be laid out in a grid system, with a 'distribution of small shrines, mounds and ponds' and a large-scale water management system.

A newly documented temple site found in the forests of the Phnom Kulen, Cambodia

Researchers used aerial laser scanning and ground-based surveying to uncover an 'extended urban network dating from the ninth century' which they identified as Mahendraparvata (Pictured: an aerial map of the Greater Angkor area)

The central pyramid, reservoir and associated shrines uncovered in Mahendraparvata

Other discoveries include evidence of a royal palace and a state pyramid-temple - two infrastructure features said to typically be found in Khmer Empire capitals.

'Here, we confirm the hypothesis, based on this accumulated body of evidence, that Mahendraparvata -- the eighth- to ninth-century AD capital of the Khmer Empire -- was located on the Phnom Kulen massif', the report said.

WHAT WAS THE KHMER EMPIRE?

The Khmer empire was a powerful state in South East Asia, formed by people of the same name, lasting from 802 AD to 1431 AD.

At its peak, the empire covered much of what today is Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam.

By the 7th century AD, Khmer people inhabited territories along the Mekong river - the world's seventh longest river - from the delta to roughly the modern Cambodia-Laos border, plus the region between that river and the great Tonle Sap lake to the west.

There were several kingdoms at constant war against each other, with art and culture heavily influenced by India due to long established sea trade routes with that subcontinent.

Hinduism mostly, but Buddhism as well, were important religions in the region, mixed with animist and traditional cults.

Important cities from that time include Angkor Borei, Sambor Prei Kuk, Banteay Prei Nokor and Wat Phu.

'The work described here effectively draws to a close 150 years of archaeological mapping work in the Greater Angkor region and sets the stage for more sophisticated spatio-temporal modelling of urban form'.

Damian Evans, part of the five-strong research team, told the New Scientist the result was 'a very full and detailed interpretation of that city'.

The new findings build on scans made in 2012 which confirmed the existence of Mahendraparvata, an ancient temple city near Angkor Wat.

Evans and his colleagues first found traces of extensive networks surrounding the monumental stone temple complex at Angkor Wat in June 2016.

He said at the time that their findings could further our understanding of Khmer culture and throw into question traditional assumptions about the 15th-century decline of the empire.

For years, experts have assumed that the ancient Khmer civilization collapsed in the 15th century when invading Thai armies sacked Angkor Wat, forcing populations to relocate to southern Cambodia.

Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, 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.

Scientists had previously theorized that the ancient city was located on the plateau, north of Siem Reap


Ancient 'lost city' of Khmer Empire is found in Cambodia

Researchers have identified the elusive ancient "lost city" of Cambodia for the first time, according to a report published Tuesday.

In a project that has spanned years, an international group of scientists used aerial laser scans and ground-based surveying to map Mahendraparvata, or the Mountain of Indra, King of the Gods.

Mahendraparvata was one of the first capitals in the Khmer Empire, which lasted from the 9th to 15th centuries AD, but much of what we know come from inscriptions recovered from other sites. Scientists theorized that the city was located on the Phnom Kulen plateau, about 48 kilometers (about 30 miles) north of Siem Reap, but it was difficult to find evidence. The plateau was remote, inaccessible, covered with vegetation, and potentially home to landmines installed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Shrouded in mystery for decades, Mahendraparvata has been dubbed the "lost city." Now, scientists say they have identified it for certain.

"Here, we confirm the hypothesis, based on this accumulated body of evidence, that Mahendraparvata -- the eighth- to ninth-century AD capital of the Khmer Empire -- was located on the Phnom Kulen massif," said the report, which was published in the journal Antiquity.

The researchers used airborne laser scanning that had a "unique ability to 'see through' vegetation and provide high-resolution models of the forest floor," the report said.

They had to map the area in two separate operations -- first in 2012, covering about 37 square kilometers (about 9,143 acres), and again in 2015, covering the entire mountain range, an area of 975 square kilometers (240,928 acres).

The results of the aerial mapping, along with information collected by field investigations, were then used to create a map that shows the newly discovered main paths and coordinate axes. The map details the location of features like an unfinished reservoir, several dams, the enclosure walls of temples, and even a palace.

These discoveries open the door to learning more about the Khmer Empire and the Angkor region. The map shows that the city used urban planning, a "sophisticated hydraulic system," and other innovations, the report said.

One striking discovery was that the city was built on linear axes that roughly correspond with the cardinal directions , the report said -- like an early version of the modern city grid system.

Prior to that period of time, human settlements in the area had no formal grid, no clear boundaries, and seem to have developed organically without planning -- meaning Mahendraparvata is the first known large grid city in the Khmer world.

"The work described here effectively draws to a close 150 years of archaeological mapping work in the Greater Angkor region and sets the stage for more sophisticated spatio-temporal modelling of urban form," the report said.

The Khmer empire was a powerful state in South East Asia, formed by people of the same name, lasting from 802 AD to 1431 AD.

At its peak, the empire covered much of what today is Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam.

By the 7th century AD, Khmer people inhabited territories along the Mekong river - the world's seventh longest river - from the delta to roughly the modern Cambodia-Laos border, plus the region between that river and the great Tonle Sap lake to the west.

There were several kingdoms at constant war against each other, with art and culture heavily influenced by India due to long established sea trade routes with that subcontinent.

Hinduism mostly, but Buddhism as well, were important religions in the region, mixed with animist and traditional cults.

Important cities from that time include Angkor Borei, Sambor Prei Kuk, Banteay Prei Nokor and Wat Phu.


The site of Angkor Thom

The city lies on the west bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top.

There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city. As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon's Mount Meru.

Another gate&mdashthe Victory Gate&mdashis 500 m north of the east gate the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon. It is around 30 minutes from central Siem Reap.

The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates, which are later additions to the main structure, take after those of the Bayon and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these.

A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk.

The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors.

The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists. At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrung&mdashcorner shrine&mdashbuilt of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. These are cruciform with a central tower and orientated towards the east.

Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest.

Most of the great Angkor ruins have vast displays of bas-relief depicting the various gods, goddesses, and other-worldly beings from the mythological stories and epic poems of ancient Hinduism (modified by centuries of Buddhism). Mingled with these images are actual known animals, like elephants, snakes, fish, and monkeys, in addition to dragon-like creatures that look like the stylized, elongated serpents (with feet and claws) found in Chinese art.

But among the ruins of Ta Prohm, near a huge stone entrance, one can see that the "roundels on pilasters on the south side of the west entrance are unusual in design."

What one sees are roundels depicting various common animals&mdashpigs, monkeys, water buffaloes, roosters and snakes. There are no mythological figures among the roundels, so one can reasonably conclude that these figures depict the animals that were commonly seen by the ancient Khmer people in the twelfth century.


Archaeological sites

The area of Angkor has many significant archaeological sites, including the following: Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, Baksei Chamkrong, Banteay Kdei, Banteay Samré, Banteay Srei, Baphuon, the Bayon, Chau Say Tevoda, East Baray, East Mebon, Kbal Spean, the Khleangs, Krol Ko, Lolei, Neak Pean, Phimeanakas, Phnom Bakheng, Phnom Krom, Prasat Ak Yum, Prasat Kravan, Preah Khan, Preah Ko, Preah Palilay, Preah Pithu, Pre Rup, Spean Thma, Srah Srang, Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Ta Som, Ta Keo, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Thommanon, West Baray, West Mebon. Another city at Mahendraparvata was discovered in 2013


Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge era) (1975–79)

The Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia, launched at the request of the Khmer Rouge, [133] has also been cited as a major factor in their eventual victory, including by Shawcross. [134] Vietnam later admitted that it played "a decisive role" in their seizure of power. [135] China "armed and trained" the Khmer Rouge during the civil war and continued to aid them years afterward. [136]

The relationship between the massive carpet bombing of Cambodia by the United States and the growth of the Khmer Rouge, in terms of recruitment and popular support, has been a matter of interest to historians. Some historians have cited the US intervention and bombing campaign (spanning 1965–1973) as a significant factor leading to increased support of the Khmer Rouge among the Cambodian peasantry. However, Pol Pot biographer David Chandler argues that the bombing "had the effect the Americans wanted – it broke the Communist encirclement of Phnom Penh". [128] Peter Rodman and Michael Lind claimed that the US intervention saved Cambodia from collapse in 1970 and 1973. [129] [130] Craig Etcheson agreed that it was "untenable" to assert that US intervention caused the Khmer Rouge victory while acknowledging that it may have played a small role in boosting recruitment for the insurgents. [131] William Shawcross, however, wrote that the US bombing and ground incursion plunged Cambodia into the chaos Sihanouk had worked for years to avoid. [132]

On New Year's Day 1975, Communist troops launched an offensive which, in 117 days of the hardest fighting of the war, caused the collapse of the Khmer Republic. Simultaneous attacks around the perimeter of Phnom Penh pinned down Republican forces, while other CPK units overran fire bases controlling the vital lower Mekong resupply route. A US-funded airlift of ammunition and rice ended when Congress refused additional aid for Cambodia. The Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh surrendered on 17 April 1975, just five days after the US mission evacuated Cambodia. [127]

The government made three unsuccessful attempts to enter into negotiations with the insurgents, but by 1974, the CPK was operating openly as divisions, and some of the NVA combat forces had moved into South Vietnam. Lon Nol's control was reduced to small enclaves around the cities and main transportation routes. More than two million refugees from the war lived in Phnom Penh and other cities.

The Khmer Rouge insurgency inside Cambodia continued to grow, aided by supplies and military support from North Vietnam. Pol Pot and Ieng Sary asserted their dominance over the Vietnamese-trained communists, many of whom were purged. At the same time, the Khmer Rouge (CPK) forces became stronger and more independent of their Vietnamese patrons. By 1973, the CPK were fighting battles against government forces with little or no North Vietnamese troop support, and they controlled nearly 60% of Cambodia's territory and 25% of its population.

The Khmer Republic's leadership was plagued by disunity among its three principal figures: Lon Nol, Sihanouk's cousin Sirik Matak, and National Assembly leader In Tam. Lon Nol remained in power in part because none of the others were prepared to take his place. In 1972, a constitution was adopted, a parliament elected, and Lon Nol became president. But disunity, the problems of transforming a 30,000-man army into a national combat force of more than 200,000 men, and spreading corruption weakened the civilian administration and army.

In April 1970, US President Richard Nixon announced to the American public that US and South Vietnamese ground forces had entered Cambodia in a campaign aimed at destroying NVA base areas in Cambodia (see Cambodian Incursion). [126] The US had already been bombing Vietnamese positions in Cambodia for well over a year by that point. Although a considerable quantity of equipment was seized or destroyed by US and South Vietnamese forces, containment of North Vietnamese forces proved elusive.

Hanoi rejected the new republic's request for the withdrawal of NVA troops. In response, the United States moved to provide material assistance to the new government's armed forces, which were engaged against both CPK insurgents and NVA forces. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, desperate to retain their sanctuaries and supply lines from North Vietnam, immediately launched armed attacks on the new government. The North Vietnamese quickly overran large parts of eastern Cambodia, reaching to within 15 miles (24 km) of Phnom Penh. The North Vietnamese turned the newly won territories over to the Khmer Rouge. The king urged his followers to help in overthrowing this government, hastening the onset of civil war. [125]

While visiting Beijing in 1970 Sihanouk was ousted by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak in the early hours of 18 March 1970. [121] [122] Despite Sihanouk's allegations, there is no evidence that this coup was planned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. [123] However, as early as 12 March 1970, the CIA Station Chief told Washington that based on communications from Sirik Matak, Lon Nol's cousin, that "the (Cambodian) army was ready for a coup". [124] Lon Nol assumed power after the military coup and immediately allied Cambodia with the United States. Son Ngoc Thanh, an opponent of Pol Pot, announced his support for the new government. On 9 October, the Cambodian monarchy was abolished, and the country was renamed the Khmer Republic. The new regime immediately demanded that the Vietnamese communists leave Cambodia.


Ancient ‘Lost City’ of Khmer Empire Rediscovered Hidden Under The Cambodian Jungle

Scientists have rediscovered an ancient city of the Khmer Empire, hidden for centuries by the lush jungle topography of modern-day Cambodia.

Mahendraparvata, sometimes dubbed the ‘lost city of Cambodia’, was an early capital city of the Khmer Empire, a Hindu-Buddhist regime of Southeast Asia that lasted from the 9th to 15th centuries of the common era.

Archaeologists and historians have known about the existence of Mahendraparvata for decades, but surviving archaeological evidence of this Angkorian city has proven scant, until now.

In a new paper – collecting the results of an ambitious, years-long research campaign – an international team has published what they say is the most definitive identification of early Angkor-period capital, thanks to airborne laser scanning (Lidar).

The grid-like axes of the urban network. (Chevance et al., Antiquity, 2019)

In conjunction with a ground-based survey, the research team mapped an extended urban network that they say dates from the 9th century, located in the Phnom Kulen plateau, to the north-east of the city of Angkor (the predominant capital city of the Khmer Empire, as recorded by history).

“The mountainous region of Phnom Kulen has, to date, received strikingly little attention,” the researchers, led by first author and archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Chevance from the Archaeology and Development Foundation in the UK, explain in their paper.

“It is almost entirely missing from archaeological maps, except as a scatter of points denoting the remains of some brick temples.”

Aerial view of Mahendraparvata. (Archaeology Development Foundation)

In research efforts that commenced in 2012 and lasted until 2017, the team commenced a series of Lidar survey flights above the region, building up an extensive map of thousands of newly detected archaeological features that had previously escaped notice on the ground – due to centuries of encroachment by nature.

“The Ancient Khmer modified the landscape, shaping features on a very large scale – ponds, reservoirs, canals, roads, temples, rice fields, et cetera,” Chevance told Newsweek.

“However, the dense forest often covering the areas of interest is a main constraint to investigating them.”

A newly documented temple site. (Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative)

Thanks to the aerial survey, though, the team was able to see past the layers of vegetation and dirt hiding Mahendraparvata from view, uncovering a complex urban network of city features designed in a grid-like pattern of linear axes, and spanning up to 50 square kilometres in total.

“Numerous other elements of the anthropogenic landscape connect to this broader network, suggesting the elaboration of an overall urban plan,” the researchers explain.

“Dams, reservoir walls and the enclosure walls of temples, neighbourhoods and even the royal palace abut or coincide with the embanked linear features.”

Despite the elaborate design and sophistication of the lost city’s engineered footprint, it did not survive long.

In the years to come, the Khmer Empire moved its centre of operations to the new capital, Angkor, perhaps due to better conditions for growing food in a less mountainous and challenging environment.

“The city may not have lasted for centuries, or perhaps even decades,” one of the team, Damian Evans from the French School of the Far East, told New Scientist.

“But the cultural and religious significance of the place has lasted right up until the present day.”


Watch the video: Koh Ker the Lost City of Khmer Empire Sub English