Airborne laser reveals hidden city in Cambodia
By Kristen Gelineau, AP, Jun 18, 2013
SYDNEY (AP)—Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roadways and canals, illustrating a bustling ancient city linking Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple complex.
The discovery was announced late Monday in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The laser scanning revealed a previously undocumented formally planned urban landscape integrating the 1,200-year-old temples.
The Angkor temple complex, Cambodia’s top tourist destination and one of Asia’s most famous landmarks, was constructed in the 12th century during the mighty Khmer empire.
Archaeologists had long suspected that the city of Mahendraparvata lay hidden beneath a canopy of dense vegetation atop Phnom Kulen mountain in Siem Reap province. But the airborne lasers produced the first detailed map of a vast cityscape, including highways and previously undiscovered temples.
"No one had ever mapped the city in any kind of detail before, and so it was a real revelation to see the city revealed in such clarity," University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans, the study’s lead author, said by phone from Cambodia. "It’s really remarkable to see these traces of human activity still inscribed into the forest floor many, many centuries after the city ceased to function and was overgrown."
The laser technology, known as lidar, works by firing laser pulses from an aircraft to the ground and measuring the distance to create a detailed, three-dimensional map of the area. It’s a useful tool for archaeologists because the lasers can penetrate thick vegetation and cover swaths of ground far faster than they could be analyzed on foot. Lidar has been used to explore other archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge.