It’s crazy what a bunch of lasers can discover.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, archaeologists in Cambodia said they uncovered previously unknown hidden cities near the Temples of Angkor Wat, which is part of one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.
Using airborne laser scanning technology and covering an area of more than 734 square miles, experts revealed multiple cities that are around 900 to 1,400 years old. Some are so large that they rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
“We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there,” said Dr. Damian Evans, an Australian archaeologist with the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar (light detection and ranging) Initiative (CALI), which has been mapping the country.
This study, one of the largest of its kind, was an extension of a previous survey in 2012 that uncovered a large, interconnected system between cities. The results of the 2015 study, which will be released in full on Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science, show the full scale of the city and subsequently the Khmer Empire, which at its peak in the 12th century, may have been the largest empire on Earth.
The discoveries not only expand on the collective history of the region, but also might give researchers clues into the empire’s collapse around the 15th century.
“There’s an idea that somehow the Thais invaded and everyone fled down south–that didn’t happen, there are no cities [revealed by the aerial survey] that they fled to,” Evans said. “It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse.”
For more information on the results of the study, you can visit the official website of CALI at angkorlidar.org.