Archaeologists revealed previously undocumented medieval cities that are located near the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. These vast, new cities are groundbreaking discoveries that could change many key assumptions about the history of Southeast Asia.
The airborne laser scanning technology called lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) revealed multiple ancient cities. The remnants were between 900 and 1,400 years old and found hidden under the thick jungle. The size of some of the newly discovered medieval cities was even bigger than the nation's capital, Phnom Penh.
According to experts, these ancient cities could collectively make the Khmer Empire the world's biggest during the 12th century.
"We always imagined that their great cities surrounded the monuments in antiquity," said Damian Evans, an Australian archaeologist who will be presenting the findings in detail at the Royal Geographical Society in London on June 13. "But now we can see them with incredible precision and detail, in some places for the very first time, but in most places where we already had a vague idea that cities must be there,"
Scholars have long theorized that there is more to Cambodia's Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, than just the actual complex. Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II from the early to middle 1100s. It is one of the world's largest pre-industrial cities.
In 2012, scientists confirmed the alleged existence of another temple city near Angkor Wat. The Mahendraparvata discovery was also conducted using laser scans.
While impressive in itself, it is but a small piece of an even larger and grander discovery. A 2015 survey analysis revealed the scale of the newly discovered settlements.
To map out these settlements, the archaeologists attached the scanning laser under a helicopter so it can "see through" vegetation and massive trees. A majority of the cities found near the Khmer Empire stone temples were made of thatch and wood that had rotted away but the lidar was able to reveal the hidden cities with amazing precision and complexity.
Through the scans, the archaeologists realized that they have literally been walking on top of the hidden cities for years. But the vegetation had successfully kept the ancient cities from being discovered.
The laser sensor also unearthed new data on the complex waterways that sustained the region and several iron smelting sites. The laser scans also came up with a detailed map of a vast city complex that surrounds the stone temple called Preah Khan.
"We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there - at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and, it turns out, we uncovered only a part of Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen [in the 2012 survey] ... this time we got the whole deal and it's big, the size of Phnom Penh big," added Evans.
As the new lidar data provides more accuracy, it will make future excavations less time-consuming.
In Scotland, lidar was also used to create a detailed model of the Culloden battlefield where the Jacobites took their last stand in 1746.