Airborne Laser Scans Just Uncovered a City Lost for a Millenium

Forget trowels and tiny little brushes. The new must-have tool for archaeology is lasers. Just last month, researchers in the Honduran rainforest used them to find a lost city of gold, and now archaeologists in Cambodia have found a forgotten city that's even older. Welcome to Mahendraparvata, a metropolis unknown for the past millenium.

The corner of Cambodian jungle where Mahendraparvata has been lurking is dotted with the odd above-ground temple ruin, but the extent to which the city sprawled beneath the shrubs and dirt was unknown until researchers brought airborne laser scanning tech—known as Lidar—to bear. And suddenly, it was as if the city's ruins just leapt into being.

Damian Evans, University of Sydney's archaeological research centre in Cambodia, described the moment to The Age this way:

With this instrument – bang – all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed, which is just remarkable.

But Mahendraparvata is more than just any lost city, it's the oldest in Cambodia, pre-dating the nearby "Angkor Wat" by some hundreds of years, and very likely the reason Angkor Wat was able to be built in the first place. And now that researchers are aware of both Mahendraparvata's magnitude and its hidden features, they can really dig in. Figuratively and literally.

Since its development in the Lidar has been put to use for things like hunting down pirates and mapping the Amazon rainforest, by effectively cutting through cumbersome foliage to show the ground underneath. And in this case—where there are buried ruins to be had—that's only the beginning.

So far the Lidar has only looked over a small portion of what the city's true span could be, and the sprawl carries on outwards beyond the scan's reach. The plan is to keep on keepin' on, with both high and low-tech strategies to try and find out the rest of what's hiding. Who knows what they might be able to dig up. [The Age]