A team of archaeologists have discovered previously unknown hidden Medieval cities buried deep in the jungles of Cambodia. What’s more, the massive site was discovered in close proximity to the Angkor Wat temples, one of the most important and heavily studied archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, if not the world.
In an interview with The Guardian, the archaeologists described the process of using airborne laser scanning technology. Scanning an area of more than 734 square miles, they uncovered multiple cities that are around 900 to 1,400 years old. These cities are massive; some of them are so large they rival modern-day Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh.
“We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there,” said Dr. Damian Evans. He’s an archaeologist working with the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar (light detection and ranging) Initiative (CALI), who have been mapping Cambodia and made the amazing discovery.
Previous studies of this kind uncovered large-scale, man-made interconnected systems in the forests. Researchers now know that these systems connected the newly-discovered cities to each other.
The full results of the 2015 study will be released on Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science. They will the full scale of the uncovered cities and shed more light on the Khmer Empire—which some archaeologists, historians, and cultural anthropologists believe may have been the largest empire on Earth during its peak in the 11th and 12th centuries.
The Khmer Empire collapsed sometime around the 15th century. Researchers are hoping the cities will help them better understand what happened.
“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,” Evans said. “It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse.”