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Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has 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.

Invisible city

For centuries, the Angkor region’s wealth of artefacts drew looters, archaeologists. They focused their attention, both good and ill, on Angkor Wat and a few other nearby moated temple complexes. Based on those ruins, the first European explorers to encounter Angkor in the 19th century assumed Khmer urbanites lived in what were basically moated cities of a few thousand people. These European explorers thought Angkor Wat was something like a medieval walled city in Europe, which typically held fewer than 10,000 people. They explained all the moated complexes in the Angkor area by suggesting that maybe the royal family and their people were moving from one moated city to the next overtime. But as archaeologists learned more in the intervening century, something about those population numbers seemed off. Beyond the moated cities were vast canal systems and reservoirs hinting at something bigger.

The ruins of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay covered with forest. An urban network was revealed by the lidar imagery around this temple.

Unfortunately, most of Angkor had become a tangle of jungles and small farms by the 20th century. There was little evidence of medieval settlements beyond the moats’ precise edges. Even if explorers were willing to hack through the dense growth, there was little to find. In a Khmer city, only the temples were made from stone. Everything else was built from perishable materials like wood. All that remained of Angkor’s homes and other non-religious structures were the elevated clay mounds of their foundations, which had been designed to prevent flooding during Cambodia’s intense wet season. Most of the city’s dramatic waterworks for flood runoff and water storage had been reduced to pits and troughs in the Earth. It was practically impossible to identify a medieval Angkorian house deep within the jungle.

All that changed when airborne LiDAR (for “Light Imaging, Detection, And Ranging”) came into common use for mapping in the early 2000s. Archaeologists working in Cambodia immediately seized on it. By scattering light off the surface of the planet, LiDAR systems can produce maps with accuracy down to the centimetre even if the ground is covered in heavy vegetation. The system is ideal for a place like Angkor, where the city’s remains are cloaked in vegetation and characterized almost entirely by elevated or depressed plots of ground.

The LiDAR rig was a Leica ALS70 HP instrument, mounted in a pod attached to the right skid of a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter along with a 60 megapixel Leica RCD30 camera.

With funding from the National Geographic Society and European Research council, archaeologist Damian Evans and his colleagues conducted broad LiDAR surveys of Angkor in 2012 and 2015. The team’s mapping rig consisted of a Leica ALS70 HP LiDAR instrument mounted in a pod attached to the right skid of a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter alongside a 60 megapixel Leica RCD30 camera. It was as if an invisible city suddenly appeared where only overgrowth and farmland existed before. For the first time in centuries, people could discern Angkor’s original urban grid. And what they saw changed our understanding of global history.

Archaeological researcher Piphal Heng, who studies Cambodian settlement history, told Ars that the LiDAR maps peeled back the forest canopy to reveal meticulous grids of highways and low-density neighbourhoods of thousands of houses and pools of water. There was “a complex urban grid system that extended outside the walls of Angkor Thom and other large temple complexes such as Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, and Ta Prohm,” he said. With the new data, scientists had solid evidence that the city of Angkor sprawled over an area of at least 40 to 50 square km. It was home to almost a million people. The scattered, moated complexes like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom were merely the most enduring features of what we now know was the biggest city on Earth during the 12th and 13th centuries.

This aerial photo shows what Angkor Wat looks like today, surrounded by vegetation and a few areas of modern farms and homes. None of the vast city grid from 800 years ago is visible.
In the LiDAR map, you can clearly see the central urban grid of Angkor extending from Angkor Thom (top left) and Angkor Wat (bottom left).
Here you can see the areas covered by the LiDAR surveys in 2012 and 2015.
A map of the greater Angkor area, showing the extent of the urban sprawl revealed by LiDAR.

From legend to reality

The city of Angkor has its origins in the ninth century during the reign of Jayavarman II. He unified large parts of Southeast Asia by establishing the Khmer Empire across regions we know today as Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Inscriptions on temple walls at Sadok Kok Thom in Thailand describe how he established a city called Hariharalaya, located near Siem Reap in the Angkor area. But the inscriptions also say that Jayavarman II declared himself a supreme ruler or “god-king” in a lavish Hindu ceremony held at his residence on Kulen Mountain in a city called Mahendraparvata. Accounts of the Kulen Mountain phase in Jayavarman’s life are so sparse and fantastical that debates have raged among scholars about whether he actually lived in Mahendraparvata at all.

To find out more, archaeologists targeted Kulen Mountain in their latest LiDAR survey. Evans published some of the first results from this 2015 survey in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Royal Academy of Cambodia archaeologist Kaseka Phon explained to Ars via e-mail that the LiDAR has uncovered an Angkor-like city grid at the abandoned city of Mahendraparvata on Kulen Mountain. Plus, the LiDAR “shows not only features of the construction, but also water features” that are clearly versions of Angkor’s incredible water management facilities. The new survey revealed massive stone quarries, now filled in, that produced the rock used to build some of the temples of Angkor. Kulen Mountain’s role in the birth of the Khmer Empire is no longer a legend—it’s an established historical fact.

This transformation of legend into fact has been a theme of the LiDAR surveys. Angkor’s huge population is described in temple inscriptions and reports written by Chinese travellers who visited the city during the 12th-century reign of King Suryavarman II, who built Angkor Wat. But historical sources are often exaggerated or incomplete. Plus, it was difficult for Western researchers to believe that the Khmer Empire’s great city was home to almost a million people, dwarfing European cities of the same era. Now, such facts are impossible to deny.

Angkor city planning

Angkor reached megacity proportions in the 12th century when Suryavarman II ordered the construction of Angkor Wat (which he dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu). At that time, the urban sprawl in Angkor was not only enormous, but it was centrally planned with rigorous precision. Heng told Ars that “the shape of roads, walls, moats, mounds, and ponds were probably made based on urban templates commissioned by the Angkorian rulers” while residents of different neighbourhoods probably had different degrees of freedom to modify those plans. Heng continued:

At temples such as Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, the grid usage was significantly varied. For example, based on our recent excavations, after the urban grid was laid out, there is little evidence of modification—if at all—in a series of habitation mounds inside Angkor Wat. While for Ta Prohm, its inhabitants seem to have more freedom in modifying parts of their gridded mounds.

To learn more about everyday life in Angkor Wat, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign archaeologist Alison Carter has done excavation work on some of the residential mounds inside the enclosure. In 2015, she got funding from the National Geographic Society to excavate one of the residential mounds identified via LiDAR. Carter discovered what appears to be the remains of a brick stove, complete with ceramic vessels for cooking. Chemical analysis revealed remains of pomelo fruit rind, seeds from a relative of the ginger plant, and grains of rice. This is what archaeologists call “ground-truthing,” and it’s further confirmation that the mounds we see in LiDAR are actually from households rather than other structures.

The picture that’s emerging of Angkor is much like a modern low-density city with mixed-use residential and farm areas. As Evans put it to Ars, “in the densely inhabited downtown core there are no fields, but that nice, formally planned city centre gradually gives way to an extended agro-urban hinterland where neighbourhoods are intermingled with rice-growing areas, and there is no clear distinction between what is ‘urban’ or ‘rural’.” The city was a miracle of geoengineering with every acre transformed by human hands, whether for agriculture or architecture.

Perhaps Angkor’s greatest technological achievement was its sophisticated waterworks, including artificial canals and reservoirs. People strolling through the city 800 years ago would have passed through neighborhoods whose carefully arranged homes were built alongside rainfall ponds for families, as well as enormous canals for the city as a whole. Massive rectangular reservoirs held water all year around for agricultural use.

Each neighbourhood would have looked slightly different, though all relied on the same water infrastructure. The city had to survive the floods of the rainy season and slake the thirst of people and farms in the dry season. For centuries, it accomplished this incredible feat, which modern cities still struggle with. Suryavarman II ruled a city whose mythic proportions were enabled by the most sophisticated engineering techniques of his day.

Comparison of major temple complexes in the 12th to 13th centuries, all at the same scale. Later developments (right column) show more variable grids than earlier ones (left column), with areas within the moat divided neatly into ~100×100 m “city blocks.” 6a: Angkor Wat. 6b: Beng Mealea. 6c: Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. 6d: Preah Khan of Angkor. 6e: Ta Prohm. 6f: Banteay Chhmar.
“Mound fields” across Cambodia. Panels a,b are in the Phnom Kulen area. Panels c,d are immediately to the north of the main temple complex at Sambor Prei Kuk. Panels e,f are Immediately to the west of Banteay Srei temple at Angkor. Panels g,h: Near the exit of the East Baray reservoir at Angkor, new archaeological mapping (3g) based on the 2012 ALS data has added further detail to a ~10×10 grid of mounds (3h) and revealed a second mound field to the south of the exit. Panels 3a,c and e are conventional aerial imagery acquired in the 2015 campaign. Panel 3g is based on archaeological maps by Damian Evans, Christophe Pottier and Pelle Wijker.
Unexplained, rectangular coil patterns associated with major temples across northwest Cambodia, revealed in LiDAR maps.

Mysterious coils and mounds

Plenty of unknowns remain at Angkor, and the LiDAR surveys have revealed two previously unseen structures that nobody has been able to explain so far. The first is a complicated rectangular maze pattern dubbed the “coils,” “spirals,” or “geoglyphs.” These were first spotted outside the moat at Angkor Wat during the 2012 survey, but the 2015 survey revealed similar coils outside the enclosures at Beng Mealea and Preah Khan. At first glance, they appear to be waterworks, but Evans and his colleagues dismissed that idea because they are too shallow and are cut off from the city’s general waterworks.

Currently, the reigning hypothesis is that these rectilinear coils were specialized gardens for growing plants used in temple rituals. The often-flooded channels might have contained lotus, while the raised areas could have supported “aromatics such as sandalwood trees.”

More mysterious are the so-called “mound fields” found near some of Angkor’s largest reservoirs and canals. Unlike the residential mounds excavated by Carter and her colleagues, these mounds aren’t packed with ceramics and food remains. They are just mounds, clearly the foundations for an elevated structure or structures. Their locations suggest that they may have been related to the city’s waterworks, but of course, correlation does not equal causation. Further research is needed to unlock the secrets of the coils and mound fields.

Sprawling Remains of Ancient Cities Discovered Beneath Cambodia’s Jungle

Sprawling Remains of Ancient Cities Discovered Beneath Cambodia’s Jungle

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world flock to visit the famed Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. However, as exploration has uncovered evidence of mediaeval settlements under the jungle, it suggests that there will soon be new places to explore.

To shed new light on the society behind the world’s largest religious complex, researchers used laser technologies. Although the analysis has been ongoing for many years, the new findings uncover the sheer scale of the Khmer Empire’s urban sprawl and temple complexes to be significantly bigger than was previously thought.

Damian Evans and colleagues say they find evidence of extensive networks circling the colossal stone temple complex at Angkor Wat by using high-tech lasers to search the Cambodian jungle.

In 2012, the airborne Lidar system revealed a long-forgotten urban landscape in the jungle of Cambodia. The new research now reveals the sheer size of the ancient cities

Evans said their findings could further our understanding of Khmer culture and throw into question traditional assumptions about the 15th-century decline of the empire. Evans said a laser technology known as lidar was used to create precise maps of ancient networks that left only vague traces – invisible to the naked eye – in the landscape surrounding the temples.

‘You could be standing in the middle of the forest looking at what appear to be some random lumps and bumps,’ Evans said.

‘But they might actually be evidence of old excavated ponds or built-up roadways,’ he explained. ‘All of these things left traces in the surface of the landscape that wouldn’t make sense to you without a more detailed picture.’

To obtain such details, Evans said his colleagues spent 90 hours in a helicopter directing laser scans into the jungle surrounding Angkor Wat. He said that the resulting images are so intricate ‘you can see objects lying next to a tiny anthill.’

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It was the result of a joint project including the French Institute of Asian Studies in Paris, the Cambodian national authority responsible for protecting Angkor Wat and the ministry of culture and fine arts.

New images from the survey show ancient cities near Angkor Wat were much bigger than previously thought. Above, a shaded relief map of the terrain around the central monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk
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

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.  But Evans said their laser maps showed no evidence of relocated, dense cities in the south and that it wasn’t clear there was any such mass migration.

Chanratana Chen, a Cambodian academic at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, said the new findings had changed his own perception of the Angkor Wat temple complex, which the Cambodian people commonly refer to as ‘the small city.’ Chen was not involved in the new research.

‘The new results (show) us that Cambodia was a much more advanced civilization than we thought, especially about the management plan of the city and irrigation system to improve agriculture in the area,’ Chen wrote in an email.

Among the most noteworthy discoveries, Evans and colleagues had found were proof of medieval sandstone quarries and traces of a royal road between various temple complexes, he said.

In 2012, the team discovered 1,200-year-old statues and temples. This research now builds upon those findings

Evans doubted tourists would soon be flocking to see the unremarkable ‘mounds in the ground’ that the lasers had decoded at Angkor Wat. But said he and colleagues have now pinpointed sites that might be fruitful for further excavation.

He said it was likely there could be similar such discoveries elsewhere in Southeast Asia, possibly in Burma and even the Americas, where archaeologists might unearth more secrets about the remains left behind by the 6th-century Mayan Empire. 

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.

The new findings build on scans that were made in 2012 that confirmed the existence of Mahendraparvata, an ancient temple city near Angkor Wat. However, until now, the sheer scale of the settlements was unknown.

Mr Chhay Rachna, of Cambodia’s APSARA National Authority, oversees excavations at the geometric features uncovered near Angkor Wat, guided by the lidar imagery

Mr Evans said: ‘What we had was basically a scatter of disconnected points on the map denoting temple sites. Now it’s like having a detailed street map of the entire city.’

Further maps will be published in the coming months. Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government body that manages the Angkor complex, said the lidar had uncovered ‘a lot of information from the past.’

He said: ‘It shows the size and information about people living at those sites in the past,’ but added that further research was now needed to capitalise on the finds. While the Khmer Empire was initially Hindu it increasingly adopted Buddhism and both religions can be seen on display at the complex. Angkor is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and remains Cambodia’s top tourist attraction.

The information has helped archaeologists to map out the area and will help increase the accuracy of future digs. Pictured above, terrain in the mountains to the north of Angkor.
This digital terrain model of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay in Cambodia was taken using lidar

Massive Lion Sculpture Uncovered in Cambodia

Massive Lion Sculpture Uncovered in Cambodia

According to a report in The Phnom Penh Post, two pieces of a six-foot-tall statue of a lion were unearthed by mine-clearing experts preparing the site of a new groundwater reservoir along the Tonle Sap River.

The crew members excavated and cleared mines for a planned groundwater reservoir that will also be the site of Phnom Penh’s sixth water pumping station. It is located along the Tonle Sap River in front of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, according to Ratana.

After digging the soil up to 4 m underground lion statue was discovered, separated into two parts. At the National Museum, the Ministry will retain it, “he added.

A statue of a lion was found by mine clearance experts while they were digging for a development project along the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district. CMAC

Ratana said it is not CMAC’s duty to care for the statue, so the organization will leave it to the proper authorities to preserve it.

The director-general for tangible heritage at the ministry, Hab Touch, told The Post on Tuesday that he had not seen the statue yet. A press release he received said the statue resembles the lion statue at Wat Phnom.

But Touch said: “I don’t think it’s a lion from Wat Phnom because that lion is large. Its location means there must be something there like a bridge.”

Phnom Penh Department of Culture director Chum Vuthy told The Post on Tuesday that the ministry hasn’t studied the statue yet.

“This matter should be brought to the museum and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, which took this statue to study it. There is an experiment center in the museum,” he said.

National Museum director Chhay Visoth told The Post that he cannot make any assumptions about which era the stone lion was made in because experts needed time to check the composition of the ancient stone.

“We cannot make assumptions of the lion that we found during mine clearance for the reservoir plan because we don’t have any connections regarding this statue.

“Normally, we can know the date of an artefact by identifying other things around it,” he said.

Viosth said it’s suspected that the lion was created at the same time as Wat Phnom or sometime after Cambodia was a French protectorate.

He said the statue also could have been taken from other areas such as Angkor.

“We suspect that it could have been from the Bakheng Mountain area because its height is 2m. We need time to study and date it,” he said.

High-Tech Equipment Leads to Discovery of Lost City in Cambodian Jungle

High-Tech Equipment Leads to Discovery of Lost City in Cambodian Jungle

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world flock to Cambodia to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple. But it appears that there may soon be new sites to visit, as research has revealed details of medieval cities under the jungle.

Wissenschaftler used laser technology to shed new light on the civilization behind the biggest religious complex in the world. During the time of investigations for several years, new findings reveal a much larger scale than was previously thought of in the urban expanse and temple complexes of the Khmer Empire.

Using high-tech lasers to scan the Cambodian jungle, Damian Evans and colleagues say they found traces of extensive networks surrounding the monumental stone temple complex at Angkor Wat. Evans said their findings could further our understanding of Khmer culture and throw into question traditional assumptions about the 15th-century decline of the empire.

The airborne Lidar system revealed a long-forgotten urban landscape in the jungle of Cambodia. The new research now reveals the sheer size of the ancient cities

Evans said a laser technology known as lidar was used to create precise maps of ancient networks that left only vague traces – invisible to the naked eye – in the landscape surrounding the temples.

‘You could be standing in the middle of the forest looking at what appear to be some random lumps and bumps,’ Evans said.

But they might actually be evidence of old excavated ponds or built-up roadways,’ he explained. ‘All of these things left traces on the surface of the landscape that wouldn’t make sense to you without a more detailed picture. To obtain such details, Evans said his colleagues spent 90 hours in a helicopter directing laser scans into the jungle surrounding Angkor Wat.

He said that the resulting images are so intricate ‘you can see objects lying next to a tiny anthill.’ The research was published Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It was the result of a joint project including the French Institute of Asian Studies in Paris, the Cambodian national authority responsible for protecting Angkor Wat and the ministry of culture and fine arts.

New images from the survey show ancient cities near Angkor Wat were much bigger than previously thought. Above, a shaded relief map of the terrain around the central monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk
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

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. But Evans said their laser maps showed no evidence of relocated, dense cities in the south and that it wasn’t clear there was any such mass migration.

Chanratana Chen, a Cambodian academic at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, said the new findings had changed his own perception of the Angkor Wat temple complex, which the Cambodian people commonly refer to as ‘the small city.’ Chen was not involved in the new research.

‘The new results (show) us that Cambodia was a much more advanced civilization than we thought, especially about the management plan of the city and irrigation system to improve agriculture in the area,’ Chen wrote in an email.

Among the most noteworthy discoveries, Evans and colleagues had found were proof of medieval sandstone quarries and traces of a royal road between various temple complexes, he said.

Evans doubted tourists would soon be flocking to see the unremarkable ‘mounds in the ground’ that the lasers had decoded at Angkor Wat. But said he and colleagues have now pinpointed sites that might be fruitful for further excavation.

He said it was likely there could be similar such discoveries elsewhere in Southeast Asia, possibly in Burma and even the Americas, where archeologists might unearth more secrets about the remains left behind by the 6th-century Mayan Empire. 

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.

The new findings build on scans that confirmed the existence of Mahendraparvata, an ancient temple city near Angkor Wat. However, until now, the sheer scale of the settlements was unknown.

Mr. Evans said: ‘What we had was basically a scatter of disconnected points on the map denoting temple sites. Now it’s like having a detailed street map of the entire city.’

Further maps will be published in the coming months.

Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government body that manages the Angkor complex, said the lidar had uncovered ‘a lot of information from the past.’

He said: ‘It shows the size and information about people living at those sites in the past,’ but added that further research was now needed to capitalize on the finds.

While the Khmer Empire was initially Hindu it increasingly adopted Buddhism and both religions can be seen on display at the complex. Angkor is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and remains Cambodia’s top tourist attraction.

Underwater robot finds shipwreck with treasure worth up to $17B

Underwater robot finds shipwreck with treasure worth up to $17B

Researchers have released new details about the discovery of a centuries-old shipwreck holding up to $17 billion worth of sunken treasure off the coast of Colombia. Just don’t ask them to mark the spot with an “X” on any map.

The Spanish galleon San Jose, often called the “Holy Grail of shipwrecks,” was found off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia in November 2015, using a specialized robot, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said.

WHOI scientists worked with the Colombian government and the Maritime Archeology Consultants group to find the wreck, although it took them some time to confirm that it was actually the San Jose.

MAC allowed the WHOI researchers to announce their role in the project this week, although Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos previously tweeted about the shipwreck discovery in 2015.

The famed 64-gun, the three-mast vessel was sunk by a British ship in 1708, sending it to the bottom of the ocean with its cargo hold loaded full of gold, silver, and emeralds.

Its location has long been a mystery and subject of fascination, but in the end, it was a submersible robot – not a treasure-hunter – that found it.

Researchers first detected the ship on sonar and used a remote submersible, dubbed the REMUS 6000, to investigate it further.

The REMUS 6000 captured a slew of images showing the San Jose to be mostly buried in sediment, at a spot some 600 meters below the surface.

Researchers say they knew it was the San Jose when they saw photos of its distinctive bronze cannons, which are engraved with dolphin designs.

“With the camera images from the lower altitude missions, we were able to see new details in the wreckage and the resolution was good enough to make out the decorative carving on the cannons,” expedition leader Mike Purcell, a WHOI engineer, said in a news release. “MAC’s lead archaeologist, Roger Dooley, interpreted the images and confirmed that San Jose had finally been found.”

Bronze cannons discovered the Remus 6000 at the bottom Caribbean Sea

The exact location of the wreck remains a Colombian state secret.

Colombia says it will set up a museum to display artifacts from the wreck. However, don’t expect to see a pile of sunken treasure in that museum anytime soon.

The fate of San Jose’s treasure remains unclear, as there have been several lawsuits in recent decades over who has a claim to it.

Every piece of that treasure will remain on the seafloor, at least until the legal battle is won.

Rare Turtle Statue Found Submerged in Angkor Reservoir

Rare Turtle Statue Found Submerged in Angkor Reservoir

Archaeologists in Cambodia have discovered a massive, century-old turtle statue in the temple complex of Angkor.

The Srah Srang reservoir site at sunset, Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia.

On Wednesday, a carved, 56 by 93 centimeters (22-by-37 inches) carved stone turtle believed to date from the 10th century was discovered during digging at what was the site of a small temple that had been built on Srah Srang, one of Angkor’s several reservoirs.

Researchers pinpointed where the temple had been and workers drained the water off to enable the dig, which began March 16, said Mao Sokny, head of the excavation team of the Apsara Authority, a government agency that oversees the Angkor archaeological site.

The bottom half of the turtle remained buried Thursday while preparations were being made to lift it out without damaging it.

Angkor was strongly influenced by Hindu culture, and as a result, when a temple or other important structure was built, sacred objects would often be buried in the ground underneath as a gesture to ensure safety and good fortune.

In several Asian cultures, turtles are seen as symbols of longevity and prosperity.

The turtle sculpture found in the Angkor reservoir is believed to have been placed as an offering in the temple’s foundation.

The Glories of a Temple Submerged in the Angkor Reservoir

According to The Star, ‘the remnants of the temple can be seen peeking over the waterline in the dry season’. Srah Srang is completely submerged during Cambodia’s wet season.

It appears that at some date the artificial island upon which the structure was built sank into the sediment of the Angkor reservoir or baray.

This temple is believed to date to the 9th or 10th century AD and was rebuilt by King Jayavarman VII.

It was built in the Khmer style of architecture that was influenced by South Indian buildings.

Some of the original landing points that were built to allow people to access the temple can still be seen. Archaeologists have unearthed a burial site with the cremated remains of many individuals near the sunken temple.

The Kandal Srah Srang temple was once one of the many wonders of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which was the dominant power in South East Asia for much of the Medieval era.

It was an Indianized kingdom and was heavily influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. This Empire collapsed in the 15th century because of environmental factors and foreign invasions.

A Glimpse into Khmer Rituals and Ceremonies

The Hindu-Buddhist culture of the Khmer Empire is crucial in helping experts to understand the turtle statue. Similar objects have been found at Khmer temples such as Lor Ley, but the one found at Sran Srang is much larger.

Chea Socheat told The Khmer Times that “The turtle is known as one of the avatars of the Hindu god, Vishnu.” Depictions of turtles were often ritual offerings and they were placed in the center or foundations of temples.

However, experts cannot definitively state if this was the case for this particular statue, though they believe the sculpture may have been used as part of some religious ritual or celebration.

The Khmer Times quotes Chea Socheat as saying that “Our recent discovery can help explain the history of the temple, including the religious ceremonies that were once performed here.”

There have been many archaeological studies of the site but there have been no systematic investigations based on the objects unearthed.

Trident found at Kandal Srah Srang Temple in Siem Reap province.

Thus, this rare find in the Angkor reservoir could help experts to better understand the culture and religion of the Khmer Empire.

21 Buddha Statues Found Buried in Angkor Wat Area

21 Buddha Statues Found Buried in Angkor Wat Area

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—Reports that 141 statue fragments were uncovered in Angkor Wat by Apsara Authority workers who were installing an irrigation system.

The statue fragments are thought to make up 21 Buddha statues, although no heads have been recovered.

“The statues were buried and mixed up with some modern items, including a metal door frame, glass shrapnel, a bicycle bell and rim, and even plastic bags,” said project manager Srun Tech, who thinks the statues were buried in the 1960s or 1970s.

More than 100 remnants of Buddha statues were uncovered by archaeological experts in Siem Reap province’s Angkor Wat area

The Apsara Authority said yesterday that more than 100 remains of statues of Buddha were discovered by archeological experts from Angkor Wat Province in Siem Reap.

Srun Tech, manager of the Apsara Authority’s excavation project at Angkor Wat temple, said the artifacts were discovered accidentally on Saturday by the Apsara Authority’s working team, who were implementing an irrigation system management project in the area.

An excavation operation has since unearthed 141 remnants of Buddha figurines, equivalent to 21 whole statues.

“We have mostly found Buddha statues – 21, so far. The statues were buried and mixed up with some modern items, including metal door frame, glass shrapnel, bicycle bell, and rim and even plastic bags. were mostly broken, with no heads attached, prompting the archaeologists to suspect the missing parts could have been buried deeper.

Judging by the way the statues were orderly buried, Mr. Tech said the artifacts may have been buried intentionally to avoid being detected by other people.

“The recent discovery underscores the fact that the Angkor Wat is still an important target for further research,” he said.

I’m Sokrithy, head of Conservation of Monuments in the Angkor Park Department, said as of yesterday, the Apsara Authority’s working group has excavated 40 centimeters of land at the site.

The excavation work will continue to be carried out, including further studies on the era from when the statues were made and the purpose behind the burying of the relics.

In late March, the Apsara Authority’s working team also discovered a wooden structure of more than 1,000 years of age and a Ganesh statue in the middle of the Angkor Wat temple’s northern pond while experts were restoring the pond.

Statue Fragments Found Near Cambodia’s Bayon Temple

Statue Fragments Found Near Cambodia’s Bayon Temple

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA— The large statue fragments have been recovered from a canal near the Gate of the Dead at Angkor Thom by members of Cambodia’s Department of Monuments and Preventive Archaeology, the heritage police, and agents from the Apsara Authority.

Two sandstone heads of tug-of-war statues have been spotted near the Gate of the Dead

“The god statue found by the working team has four pieces, while another giant statue has only the back part without a face,” said Chhouk Somala of the Department of Monuments and Preventive Archaeology.

Two sandstone heads of tug-of-war statues have been spotted and brought out from a canal near the Gate of the Dead. This was found today on the eastern side of Siem Reap province’s Bayon temple.

Chhouk Somala, an officer in charge of archaeological registration at the Department of Monuments and Preventive Archaeology said, two heads of statues including one god and a giant of the tug-of-war statue at the Gate of the Dead, have been found by the department’s working team, heritage police, and Apsara Authority’s travel agents.

He added, “The god statue found by the working team has four pieces, while another giant statue has only the back part without a face.”

The finding of the two statues was not accidental because the general structures of the tug-of-war statue have been damaged due to the age of the structure, natural forces, and war which made some of those statues fall into the water and get buried in the ground.

Long Kosal, Apsara Authority spokesman, said archaeologists in the past have also discovered the sandstone statues at some sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park, and have been brought to the Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum for study and preservation.

“After taking these two statues out of the water, our working team has brought it to the Department of Monuments and Preventive Archaeology to register them as art objects, repair and conduct further studies before handing them over to be artifacts in the museum,” he said.