Deciphering a Timeline of Demise at Medieval Angkor, Cambodia Using Remote Sensing

Sarah Klassen, Tiago Attore, David Brotherson, Rachna Chhay, Wayne Johnson, Ian Moffat, Roland Fletcher

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The Greater Angkor Region was the center of the Khmer Empire from the 9th until the 13th to the 14th centuries CE, when it entered a period of decline. Many studies have suggested that the decline of Angkor was precipitated by several factors, including severe monsoons, geopolitical shifts, and invasions. In this paper, we use light detection and ranging and ground penetrating radar to investigate the possible intersection of two of these existential threats in one feature: the North Bank Wall. Our results indicate that this feature was designed with dual functionality of extending the urban area’s defenses to the east of Angkor Thom while maintaining the existing infrastructure for the distribution and disposal of water. These findings suggest that the North Bank Wall was built before the severe droughts in the mid-13th century. The timing of the construction indicates that the perceived need for additional security—whether from internal factional disputes or external adversaries—predated the final adaptations to the hydraulic network during the unprecedented monsoon variability of the 14th century. These results indicate that perceived political unrest may have played a more important role in the decline of the site than previously known.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2094
Number of pages14
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Angkor
  • Cambodia -- Archaeology
  • Geophysics
  • Decline
  • Ground penetrating radar
  • Urban-ism
  • Water management
  • Lidar
  • Light detection and ranging


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