Using airborne laser technology, archaeologists discovered the 1,200 year old city of Mahendraparvata. Included in this find were also temples hidden by jungles for centuries and many have not been looted. The expedition was lead by a French born archaeologist, through landmine strewn jungle in the Siem Reap region where Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world is located. The expedition used an instrument known as “lidar”-light detection and ranging data, which was strapped to a helicopter that criss crossed a mountain north of Angkor Wat for seven days, providing data that matched years of ground research by archaeologists. Using billions of laser pulses, the lidar instrument effectively peeled away jungle canopy allowing archaeologists to see structures that were in perfect squares, completing a map of the city.
From this, they were able to see so much, which years of painstaking ground research has been unable to achieve. It helped reveal the city that reportedly founded the Angkor Empire in 802 AD and uncovered more than two dozen previously unrecorded temples, along with evidence of ancient canals, dykes, and roads using satellite coordinates. Jean-Baptiste Chevance, director of the Archaeology and Development Foundation in London, argues, “We now know from the new data the city was for sure connected by roads, canals and dykes.” Damien Evans, director of the University of Sydney’s archaeological research center in Cambodia argues, “We see from the imagery that the landscape was completely devoid of vegetation. One theory is that we are looking at the severe environmental impact of deforestation and the dependence on water management led to the demise of the civilization. Perhaps it became too successful to the point of becoming unmanageable.” Until the findings were peer-reviewed, everyone involved was sworn to secrecy. Chuch Phoeun, Secretary of State at Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture stated, “We need to preserve the area because it is the origin of our culture.”