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Ancient City Revealed by Lidar in Cambodian Jungle

Map of Lidar Used to Understand Design of Ancient City

Lidar Used to Understand Design of Ancient City

Stone inscriptions tell tales of an ancient city called Mahendraparvata. The once-mighty metropolis was one of the first capitals of the Khmer empire, which ruled in Southeast Asia between the ninth and 15th centuries. It was long believed that the ancient city was hidden beneath thick vegetation on a Cambodian mountain, not far from the temple of Angkor Wat.

From an article in Live Science by Yasemin Saplakoglu.

Now, thanks to an incredibly detailed map, researchers can “definitively” say that the ruins, overgrown by thick vegetation on the mountain of Phnom Kulen, are in fact from that 1,000-year-old city. The ancient city was never really lost, as Cambodians have been making religious pilgrimages to the site for hundreds of years.

“It’s always been suspected that the city of Mahendraparvata that’s talked about in the inscriptions was indeed somewhere up here in the mountains,” said study co-author Damian Evans, a research fellow with the French School of the Far East (EFEO) in Paris. Now, “we can say for sure: Definitely, this is the place.”

In a collaboration between the EFEO, the Archeology and Development Foundation in the U.K., and the APSARA National Authority (a government agency responsible for protecting the Angkor region in Cambodia), researchers combined airborne laser scanning with ground surveys and excavations to weave a narrative of the development and demise of this ancient city.

The technology, known as light detection and ranging, or lidar, creates maps of an area by having a plane shoot lasers at the ground and measure how much light is reflected back. From that information, researchers can figure out the distance from the lasers on the plane to solid objects between the vegetation on the ground. (For instance, a temple would measure as a shorter distance to the airborne laser than a road would.)

Evans’ team combined lidar data it had gathered in 2012 and 2015 with digitized survey and excavation data gathered earlier. The researchers also combined this data with the nearly 600 newly documented features that archeologists found on the ground. Those features included ceramic material, as well as bricks and sandstone pedestals that typically indicate temple sites.

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