Geoarchaeological evidence from Angkor, Cambodia, reveals a gradual decline rather than a catastrophic 15th-century collapse

Dan Penny, Tegan Hall, Damian Evans, Martin Polkinghorne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Alternative models exist for the movement of large urban populations following the 15th-century CE abandonment of Angkor, Cambodia. One model emphasizes an urban diaspora following the implosion of state control in the capital related, in part, to hydroclimatic variability. An alternative model suggests a more complex picture and a gradual rather than catastrophic demographic movement. No decisive empirical data exist to distinguish between these two competing models. Here we show that the intensity of land use within the economic and administrative core of the city began to decline more than one century before the Ayutthayan invasion that conventionally marks the end of the Angkor Period. Using paleobotanical and stratigraphic data derived from radiometrically dated sediment cores extracted from the 12th-century walled city of Angkor Thom, we show that indicia for burning, forest disturbance, and soil erosion all decline as early as the first decades of the 14th century CE, and that the moat of Angkor Thom was no longer being maintained by the end of the 14th century. These data indicate a protracted decline in occupation within the economic and administrative core of the city, rather than an abrupt demographic collapse, suggesting the focus of power began to shift to urban centers outside of the capital during the 14th century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4871-4876
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume116
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).

Keywords

  • Angkor
  • collapse
  • Cambodia
  • archaeology

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