Stunning Discovery Upends Our Understanding of Pre-Industrial Urbanism

The results of a survey conducted last year of the forests of Cambodia, but just published this month, has found a complex landscape of "low-density urban sprawl" connected to Angkor Wat, upending our understanding of pre-industrial urbanism.
July 1, 2013, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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David Wilmot

"The release this month by the US National Academy of Sciences of a report on the results of a high-tech survey of Khmer Empire sites, undertaken in April 2012, has rocked the archaeological world and captured travellers' imaginations," writes Lara Dunston.

"A monumental, sophisticated, densely populated urban landscape, which dates back more than 700 years, has been identified. It includes and connects Angkor cities such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon, with the rarely visited medieval city ruins of Phnom Kulen, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, over 100km away."

"Scholars have based their idea of all medieval cities around the world on European cities, explains Professor Roland Fletcher, director of the Greater Angkor Project. But now, it seems there was a colossal low-density urban sprawl here, a conurbation of different places with massive working citadels with enormous infrastructure," Dunston continues. "Remote temples cities like Koh Ker, 120km from Siem Reap, and Beng Mealea, 52km away, once thought of as isolated, would have been large outlying service centres for Angkor within a huge hinterland."

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Published on Friday, June 28, 2013 in The Guardian
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