A medieval city, known to archaeologists since the 1900s but buried under vegetation, has been found using new technology.
Previously known only in manuscripts, the 1,200 year old city of Mahendraparvata, has been discovered in northwest Cambodia on the mist-covered mountain Phnom Kulen. Built centuries before Cambodia’s most famous temple city, Angkor Wat, archaeologists have known about the buried city for decades, but were recently able to use laser technology to finally find its actual location and discover its true size.
The team used lidar (light detecting and ranging) technology, and airborne lasers that are beamed from a helicopter to the ground and then bounce back. The speed at which the rapid pulses of lasers bounce back is measured and builds up a complex 3D picture of what is on the ground. In this case, the laser technology not only confirmed what archaeologists already knew, that Mahendraparvata was there, but revealed an infrastructure that researchers did not quite expect. Said Roland Fletcher, of the University of Sydney:
It’s the same sort of configuration as Los Angeles — so, a dense middle, but it consists of huge, sprawling suburbs connected by giant roads and canals in exactly the same way as the freeways link up Los Angeles.
Lidar technology has been used to uncover lost cities before, such as the Ciudad Blanca in Honduras and Mayan ruins in Belize, but in this case, it revealed details about the hidden city that may have never been discoverable from the ground. Stephane De Greef, the project’s lead cartographer told The Cambodian Times:
We’re talking about a city that is more than 1,000 years old and is all underground. What you see at the site is what looks like termite hills. If you didn’t know, you might think it’s natural.