Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lost city around Angkor Temples found

Archeologists have made a new discovery in Angkor; although I;m not convinced it is being put in the proper perspective by the commercial media.

Laser technology reveals lost city around Angkor Wat
Researchers find vast cityscape hidden under deep vegetation linking the Cambodian temples complex

Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roads and canals, illustrating the remains of a bustling ancient city linking Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples complex.

The discovery was announced late on Monday in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The laser scanning revealed a previously undocumented formal urban planned 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. Angkor Wat is a point of deep pride for Cambodians, appearing on the national flag, and was named a Unesco world heritage site.

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 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 is a useful tool for archaeologists because the lasers can penetrate dense 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.

In April 2012, researchers loaded the equipment on to a helicopter, which spent days crisscrossing the dense forests from 800 metres above the ground. A team of Australian and French archaeologists then confirmed the findings with an expedition on foot through the jungle.

Archaeologists had already spent years doing ground research to map a 3.5 sq mile section of the city's downtown area. But the lidar revealed the section was much bigger – at least 14 sq miles – and more heavily populated than once believed.

"The real revelation is to find that the downtown area is densely inhabited, formally-planned and bigger than previously thought," Evans said. "To see the extent of things we missed before has completely changed our understanding of how these cities were structured."

Researchers do not yet know why the civilization at Mahendraparvata collapsed. But Evans said one current theory is that possible problems with the city's water management system may have driven people out.

The next step for researchers involves excavating the site, which Evans hopes will reveal clues about how many people once lived in the city. Complete article

One problem that they might have made is relatively minor but it is one that the commercial media repeats over and over again. They implied that Angkor Wat Angkor Wat is the name attributed to the larger temple complex. Actually it is the largest of many and since it is mentioned so much more than many of the others they often give people the impression that they're talking about Angkor Wat when they are actually taking about some of the others including the Bayon or Angkor Thom which were built after Angkor Wat and they're the ones with the giant faces. this is actually relatively minor but it is typical of the way the commercial media treats everything. One of the things that they mentioned is that it was peer reviewed but anyone that pays enough attention to the way the commercial media covers any given subject might have noticed that just because something is peer reviewed doesn't mean that the article from the media about it was peer reviewed as well or that they presented all the comments that may or may not have come from peers.

The longer article, The lost city, that the AP cites does a little better job putting it into perspective but the more important thing that might be worth considering is their claim that they don't know why the civilization at Mahendraparvata collapsed. This may be technically true but there is enough research into many of these lost civilizations to indicate that many of them almost certainly collapsed for many of the same reasons. this usually involves a combination of corruption, war and internal conflict that often involves class conflict. There is adequate reason to believe that this is almost certainly what happened at Angkor. In fact the enormous amount of effort they put in this, and many other ancient wonders, indicates a major problem that almost certainly contributes to the decline of all these civilizations. Instead of putting their resources into the basic needs of their society they seem to become obsessed with the monuments that we admire today. If they had put the efforts for construction to other purposes they could have prevented their own decline. Ironically the leading theory they provide is the impact on the environment and the water management system; this may have been a contributing factor then but as far as I can tell they had more water available to them than many other lost civilizations and the environmental damage wasn't nearly as bad as it is now. war and internal conflict seem far more likely as an explanation.

Like many of the ancient Egyptian temples the people that built them weren't allowed back in to the temples once their work was done. These temples were reserved for the use of the elites of their society; the servants that worked for them afterwards weren't allowed to stay in the temples when they weren't working. This means that they had to know that there was more to find so this wasn't too big of a surprise since the workers had to live somewhere if they weren't allowed in the temples.

Many of these ancient wonders clearly indicate an incredible amount of knowledge and skill that were used for purposes that were often not in the best interest of their societies as a whole although they may have helped those that led them to maintain control of their people; but that control and lack of considerations for the necessities of the majority may have led to their collapse. Downplaying or misrepresenting the reasons for their collapse passes up on an opportunity to remind many people that we are making many of the same mistakes that many of these other ancient civilizations made centuries ago as i indicated previously in a recent post about 107 Wonders of the Ancient World.

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