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Researchers have finally found Cambodia's 'lost city'
Posted on 29/10/2019


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Located on the Phnom Kulen massif, Mahendraparvata was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 8th to the 9th century CE.

Thanks to airborne laser scanning, researchers have been able to identify a swath of land in Cambodia's Phnom Kulen mountain range as Mahendraparvata, the 8th to 9th century CE capital of the Khmer Empire. While it was hypothesized that the city might have been located here, no definitive conclusions could be drawn until now.

Olga Khoroshunova/123RF

The site is located in the Phnom Kulen massif, 48 kilometers (around 30 miles) north of Siem Reap, and 40 kilometers away from Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is home to the largest religious complex in the world, and was the capital of the Khmer Empire at a later period, in the 12th century CE.

Mahendraparvata is difficult to access and the area is potentially covered in landmines planted by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Researchers mapped it from the air in stages: first in 2012, covering about 37 square kilometers (about 9,143 acres), and again in 2015 when they covered all of the mountain range, 975 square kilometers (240,928 acres) in total.


These maps were corroborated with field research, and the result was a pattern of linear axes, or paths. The roads corresponded "roughly to cardinal directions" according to the authors of the study, which suggests that the city was laid out in a grid pattern similar to modern urban planning.

Many of the structures from the time period were made from perishable materials such as wood, making it difficult to identify where buildings might have been. But by following other remnants of a constructed environment such as canals, fields, stone walls, and roads researchers were able to predict where homes and other buildings might have stood.

Numerous dams varying in size, an unfinished reservoir, and other signs of an advanced hydraulic system were also found. Although the massive reservoir was never finished, the researchers believe the project may have served as a prototype for other large reservoirs that were built at Angkor Wat further south.