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Rewriting the History of the Khmer Empire

Jun 20, 2013

The archaeology world is buzzing about recent discoveries in Angkor, which have revealed unprecedented insight into the Khmer Empire, the major power in Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries.

Among the recent discoveries are the unearthing of Mahendraparvata, a lost ancient city pre-dating Angkor, and a previously unknown settlement surrounding the temple of Beng Mealea. The Khmer Archaeology LiDAR Consortium, a team of archaeologists representing eight separate institutions, will be releasing its results later this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

McElhanney's Indonesia branch conducted a week-long LiDAR survey to collect the data that led to these findings. McElhanney also played a pivotal role in initiating, planning, and executing the project, the world's largest archaeological LiDAR survey to date. According to the archaeologists, McElhanney's efforts have provided them with "a lifetime" of data, revolutionizing the history of the Khmer Empire.

Much of the exploration and research undertaken over the past 150 years has been carried out by ground survey. Because the crumbling ruins of the Khmer's spectacular temples and settlements lie within dense, landmine-strewn jungle, archaeologists were unable to fully explore the true extent of the Khmer’s urban and agricultural development.

LiDAR uses lasers to capture data coordinates at regular intervals, resulting in an extremely detailed picture of the topography, even through heavy vegetation. LiDAR's accuracy far exceeds that of other remote-sensing technologies: even in areas studied extensively, it can detect previously undiscovered features or provide a new level of detail.

The findings have provided substantial insight into the Khmer civilization as well as temple complexes worldwide. In addition to its contributions to archaeological research, the use of LiDAR has significant implications for site and heritage management, to ensure these important sites are protected and preserved well into the future.

For additional information on the project, please see our article LiDAR Reveals Hidden Angkor Ruins, which was featured in the Fall 2012 issue of Professional Surveyor Magazine.


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