Thanks to modern laser technology, Southeast Asia’s Khmer Empire is rising from forest floors for the first time in centuries.
New findings show the remarkable extent to which Khmer people built cities and transformed landscapes from at least the fifth to the 15th century, and perhaps for several hundred years after that, says archaeologist Damian Evans of Cambodia’s Siem Reap Center. Laser mapping in 2015 of about 1,910 square kilometers of largely forested land in northern Cambodia indicates that gridded city streets and extensive canals emerged surprisingly early, by around A.D. 500, Evans reports June 13 in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Researchers have generally assumed that large-scale urban development began later at Greater Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire from the ninth to 15th centuries (SN: 5/14/16, p. 22).
A helicopter carrying light detection and ranging equipment, lidar for short, flew sorties over seven Khmer sites in the vicinity of Greater Angkor. Lidar’s laser pulses gathered data on the contours of jungle- and vegetation-covered land. Lidar maps revealed city blocks, canals and other remnants of past settlements.