A massive ancient civilization has been discovered in Cambodia underneath the jungles near the recognizable ancient ruin of Angkor Wat.
Temples and sprawling city quarters were discovered underneath the jungle by the Cambodian Archeological Lidar Initiative (CALI) during a 2015 study of the area. They were searching for physical remains of the Khmer Empire, which ruled the territory of modern-day Cambodia from the 9th to the 15th centuries.
The discovery of previously undocumented cities is an incredible event, furthering knowledge about the ancient Cambodian civilization.
The first archeological study in Cambodia using lidar (light detection and ranging) technology was conducted in 2012. It uncovered a complex urban landscape connecting other medieval temple-cities to Angkor Wat, the Guardian reports. Lidar technology uses airborne lasers to gather data on landscape geography and topography, a very useful way to gather archeological information in places like Cambodia and Belize, among others, in which vegetation and overgrowth hide the remains of early civilizations.
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The 2012 study also revealed a city underneath Mount Kulen whose size and technological complexity was further revealed in the results of the 2015 study.
The size of the settlements discovered in the study hint that Angkor was a powerful and densely populated civilization and may have even been the largest pre-industrial empire in the world during the 12th century, according to Atlas Obscura. Even more impressive are the city-wide water management systems discovered in these settlements which were constructed centuries before the technology is commonly thought to have existed.
The game-changing discovery is now predicted to challenge conventional theories about the decline of Angkor, commonly dated to the 15th century.
According to Australian archeologist Dr. Damian Evans, who headed the survey:
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Our coverage of the post-Angkorian capitals also provides some fascinating new insights on the ‘collapse’ of Angkor. 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. It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse.