Angkor Wat and Urban Sprawl

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Angkor Wat
Sunset at Angkor Wat. Photo (cc) Cap’n Surly.

The big story catch­ing my eye at the moment is the dis­cov­ery that there’s a lot more to Angkor Wat than pre­vi­ously thought. To some extent that shouldn’t be too sur­pris­ing. The site is boasts massive build­ings and is care­fully planned. There’s some stun­ning engin­eer­ing and hydraul­ics which feeds a net­work of pools. The prob­lem is find­ing where the extra set­tle­ment is. The dis­cov­ery of Angkor Wat was in the six­teenth cen­tury, but ser­i­ous work only really star­ted with the reports of Henri Mouhot in the 19th cen­tury. The big prob­lem is find­ing the sites. Angkor is the ste­reo­typ­ical Lost City in the Jungle. The solu­tion is to use radar which the Greater Angkor Project has been doing to look for plant growth and moisture.

You can’t build a massive city without there being some envir­on­mental impact, and the trick here is to see how plants grow after the site has been aban­doned. Places where trenches were dug and ditches cut stay slightly damper than nor­mal. Soil that accu­mu­lates over walls in con­trast is bet­ter drained. This cre­ates dif­fer­ences in in plant growth and pro­duces images that look a bit like an x-ray or out­line of the build­ings. The res­ults have been stun­ning. To quote Damien Evans, the Deputy Director of the pro­ject, “We have iden­ti­fied over a thou­sand new man­made ponds and at least 74 long-lost temples, by cor­rel­at­ing the radar data with on-the-ground sampling.“
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