Keep the LiDAR on it
June 16, 2013 9:10 AM   Subscribe

In a Sydney Morning Herald exclusive, an international team of archeologists have revealed the discovery of a hitherto unknown city in Cambodia.
Dr Evans, director of the University of Sydney's archaeological research centre in Cambodia, said the ''eureka moment'' in the discovery came weeks earlier when the lidar data popped up on a computer screen. ''With this instrument - bang - all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed which is just remarkable,'' he said.
Mahendraparvata, as the city is known, is estimated to be 350 years older than the UNESCO Heritage site of Angkor Wat, built on on Phnom Kulen before Jayavarman II descended from the mountain to build another capital. As Dr Evans said ''This is where it all began, giving rise to the Angkor civilisation that everyone associates with Angkor Wat." The news comes on the heels of the recent repatriation of looted archeological treasures back to Cambodia by the New York Metropolitan museum.
posted by infini (16 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Reading about Jayavarman II on the Wikipedia page, I saw the following quote and instantly thought about this being a sort of inversion of Pol Pot (or rather, Pol Pot as an inversion to this, at least regarding depopulating cities):

"Jayavarman's reign was marked by the centralization of the state and the herding of people into ever greater population centers."
posted by symbioid at 9:43 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I visited Cambodia several years ago, and of course, toured Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. There's a fascinating thing going on, as far as I can tell: Because the Cambodian government can't afford to restore the temples themselves, they allow other, self-financed projects to come in and work on parts, with priority given to Angkor Wat as the flagship monument.

This means there's no central direction over the restoration efforts, and so you have competing approaches. When I was there in 2008, a German team was very carefully dismantling, cleaning, and reassembling a portion of gallery in the inner temple with sufficient braces and ties to stabilize the existing stonework, and no more. At Angkor Thom, a French team was actually replacing severely degraded blocks with hand carved replicas, in an effort to show what the temple looked like in its prime, with a stone of a distinctly different colour so there's no mistaking that it's a replica.

It's too bad the stories on the new city don't actually show the LIDAR images that give an idea of the discovery's extents.
posted by fatbird at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

Symbioid, thanks to your comment, I notice I have the wrong link for Jayavarman II (probably too many tabs and windows), here is the correct one. I've also asked the mods for help.
posted by infini at 9:58 AM on June 16, 2013

What a fantastic discovery. Thanks for posting it.
posted by immlass at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This type of imaging is amazing. I believe this is one of the LIDAR images. From this history blog. Location.

The holy plateau region known as Phnom Kulen ... is still heavily landmined with many of the ex Khmer Rouge villagers bearing the scars of mine injuries.

This makes me sick to my stomach to think of this. The deployment of those mines was a crime against humanity.

Hmmmm, mediaeval? I've never seen this variant spelling.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:20 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is where it all began...

Couldn't help but have a little chuckle at this. I understand the excitement that might generate such a bold pronouncement, but shouldn't a discovery like this have exactly the opposite effect?
posted by gimli at 12:45 PM on June 16, 2013

This is really interesting! Having been to Angkor Wat and some of the outlying temple sites, like Beng Mealea, I'm not surprised to learn that the jungle swallowed up the ruins.

Land mines are a scourge.
posted by ambrosia at 12:53 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Amazing discovery and a great post. Thanks, infini.
posted by homunculus at 1:07 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

''This is a collapsed temple that was part of a bustling civilisation that existed 1200 years ago … It looks like the looters were unaware it was here.''

posted by LarryC at 1:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post! I was reading about it elsewhere and was amazed.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2013

Interesting the KR used Phnom Kulen as thier last redoubt.

is estimated to be 350 years older than the UNESCO Heritage site of Angkor Wat, built on on Phnom Kulen before Jayavarman II descended from the mountain to build another capital.

Thier may have and no doubt thier was a site before Jaya2 but

The city's origins date to the reign of Jayavarman II, considered founder of the Khmer Empire. His reign was consecrated on the sacred mountain of Mahendraparvata. The city he founded at Mahendraparvata was one of three capitals, or courts, of Jayavarman II's reign, the others being Amarendrapura and Hariharalaya.
posted by clavdivs at 9:47 AM on June 17, 2013

Thanks for posting this. Undiscovered ruins are incredibly interesting to me since humanity tends to do bad things (looting, commercialization, etc) to them once they are discovered.
posted by sacrifix at 4:40 PM on June 17, 2013


Researchers have clarified that Cambodia’s “lost city,” found in the swelter of the country’s northwestern jungles, was not so lost at all. It is, however, bigger than once thought, prompting scientists to revise their previous beliefs about the character – and the eventual collapse – of the Khmer Empire.

Researchers from the University of Sydney's archaeological research center in Cambodia said that they had known about Mahendraparvata – an ancient city from the Khmer Empire some 1,200 years old – for decades, but that before the use of Lidar technology, which allowed them to probe the vast undergrowth with lasers that revealed the buried city’s shape, they had not understood just how extensive the abandoned one-time seat of the Khmer kingdom was. The city had previously been misreported as “discovered" in a "world exclusive" from The Sydney Morning Herald.

“It is an exaggeration to say a lost city has been found because if you’re working in Cambodia you know it’s been there since the 1900s," Jean-Baptiste Chevance, director of the Archaeology and Development Foundation and the project’s lead archaeologist, told The Cambodia Daily. "The main discovery is a whole network of roads and dykes that were linking monuments that were already known."
"We identify an entire, previously undocumented, formally planned urban landscape into which the major temples such as Angkor Wat were integrated," the researchers wrote in a statement published by NBC.

posted by infini at 12:24 PM on June 19, 2013

yeah, not so lost.
posted by clavdivs at 6:37 AM on June 20, 2013

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