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"Laser Scanning Reveals the Hidden City of Angkor Wat" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jun 2013 3:20 p.m. PST

"In the year 802 C.E., the founder of the medieval Khmer empire, Jayavarman II, anointed himself "king of the world." In laying claim to such a grandiose title, he was a little ahead of his time: It would be another few centuries before the Khmers built Earth's largest religious monument, Angkor Wat, the crowning glory of a kingdom that stood in what is today northwestern Cambodia. But Jayavarman II had good reason to believe that his nascent kingdom, in the sacred Kulen hills northeast of Angkor, was a record-holder. Airborne laser scanning technology, or LiDAR, has revealed the imprint of a vast urban landscape hidden in the Kulen's jungle and in the lowlands surrounding Angkor Wat; by the 13th century, the low-density cityscape covered an area of about 1,000 square kilometers.

The findings show that the cityscape at the heart of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to 15th centuries C.E. was much more sprawling and complex than archaeologists realized and lend weight to the hypothesis that, strained by climate change, the complexity of the kingdom's vast waterworks was its ultimate undoing. The LiDAR revelations are "astonishing," says Roland Fletcher, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney in Australia and a member of the international team whose findings are in press at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

At its height, the medieval Khmer empire encompassed much of modern-day Cambodia, central Thailand, and southern Vietnam. Archaeologists have long inferred that Angkor was the most extensive city of its kind in the pre-industrial world. Its singular achievement was a complicated network of waterways and reservoirs that were apparently vital to producing enough rice to sustain a population that in the center's heyday numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Through painstaking ground and aerial surveys and excavations, Fletcher and colleagues in recent years have uncovered evidence that Angkor's waterworks began to break down around the time that the kingdom faded from the historical record. "Things are going wrong by the 1300s," Fletcher says. Signs of severe distress include massive sand deposits in canals and the ruins of a spillway that the Khmers may have ripped apart themselves. In 2009, tree ring data indicated a potential culprit: a decades-long period of megamonsoons and droughtsin Southeast Asia in the 14th century…"
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