Exciting new discoveries about the extent of cities surrounding Angkor Wat and other Cambodian temples

Exciting new discoveries about the extent of cities surrounding Angkor Wat and other Cambodian temples

Cambodia’s Khmer temples are not only a wonder of the ancient world, but one of its great mysteries. With almost no written record of what was once a vast kingdom, researchers have been left to speculate about its origins, rise to power, and ultimate fading from glory. The large stone structures that remain have many inscriptions that help explain the kingdom’s religious life and the facts about the royal family, but are largely silent about the society, culture, or even the technology that helped Khmer agriculture power an aggressive campaign of expansion and conquering neighboring civilizations. The extent of its cities, and whether the area was an extensive urban sprawl or merely a set of disjoint small cities has also been a subject of conjecture -- until now...


Fortunately, through some amazing work done by a team of both visiting and local researchers, led by Australian Damian Evans, extensive lidar scans have made both the broad outlines, and many of the details, of Khmer cities and man-made hydro projects visible. I’ve written up some background on the technology and the findings in an . It is an excellent example of how some clever technology, coupled with dedicated researchers, can make significant breakthroughs. For example the team found that the Angkor Thom city that we’ve always been told was within the 9 km-squared of the temple’s walls was actually nearly four times as large. I look forward to our next trip to the area, as we’ll be able to see much of it in a new light.


Now is an exciting time to visit Angkor Wat and the dozens of other amazing nearby temples

After years of rapid growth, tourism to Angkor Wat has leveled off. That means the infrastructure has largely caught up. Improved roads have also made it easier to visit some of the outlying temples (which are my favorites!), meaning it is easier to get away from the crowds and have some serious time and space to do photography. Angkor Wat is no longer the centerpiece of our Southeast Asia photo tour (Myanmar is), but we’re still happy to take groups there as a pre-trip extension of our . We’ll be headed that way again in December, and hope you can join us.

Area scanned with helicopter-mounted lidar in 2012 and 2015
Credit: Damian Evans, Journal of Archaeological Science