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Archaeology: Angkor Wat in Cambodia Was Larger and Different Than Thought

Dec 11, 2015 05:13 PM EST
Angkor Wat, in Cambodia
Angkor Wat, the huge 12th-century temple complex in the rainforest of Cambodia, was much larger than previously thought, say researchers with the University of Sydney.
(Photo : @felixtriller)

The 12th-century temples and complex of Angkor Wat, in the Cambodian rainforest, were much larger and different than previously thought, says a study being conducted by the University of Sydney (USYD). The research is using airplanes with laser-scanning (LiDAR) technology, radar that penetrates the ground, and excavation in targeted areas to map the extent of the pre-industrial temple, according to a release.

For one thing, Angkor Wat had a huge, unique structure on its south side, the researchers say. "This structure, which has dimensions of more than 1500m×600m, is the most striking discovery associated with Angkor Wat to date. Its function remains unknown and, as yet, it has no known equivalent in the Angkorian world," Professor Fletcher of USDYD said in the release. 

The researchers also found a large number of buried towers that were built and later demolished when the main temple was assembled. Additionally, they located remains of what might be a shrine that was used while the main temple was being constructed.

It also seems that the surrounding areas had different functions than thought. That is, while the areas around Angkor Wat's main temple have generally been assumed to be ‘temple cities' or sacred areas, the USYD researchers say that a grid of ponds, mounds and roads that were possibly used by people who worked for the temple and may indicate there was low-density residential occupation in the surrounding areas.

"This challenges our traditional understanding of the social hierarchy of the Angkor Wat community and shows that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been exclusively the preserve of the wealthy or the priestly elite," Dr. Fletcher said in the release.

Angkor Wat is heavily vegetated and has many banyan trees, which are sometimes described as strangling and covering a large area.  It is also known for monkeys, including the macaque

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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