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1,200 years later, lost city discovered in the jungles of Cambodia

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angkor wat (wikimedia)
angkor wat (wikimedia)

A team of archaeologists from Australia has discovered an ancient city that had been buried under the jungles of Cambodia for more than 1,000 years. The 1,200-year-old city, known as Mahendraparvata, was uncovered in the Siem Reap region of Cambodia, atop a mountain known as Phnom Kulen, where thousands of pilgrims used to perform spiritual ceremonies. As The Age reports, the city is believed to predate the famed Angkor Wat temple complex (pictured above) by 350 years.

Damian Evans, director of the University of Sydney's archaeological research center in Cambodia, led the mission in Siem Reap with the assistance of a former Khmer Rouge soldier and lidar — airborne remote sensing technology that uses lasers to generate detailed maps of a given terrain. When used on the dense jungles of Phnom Kulen, lidar revealed two ancient temple sites and a cave full of wall carvings. Once Evans and his team began hacking through the jungle, they found several more temples and evidence of canals and roads.

"an entire city that no one knew existed"

"With this instrument — bang — all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed, which is just remarkable," Evans told the Age. Evans' lidar mapping also turned up many mounds scattered across the city. He speculates that these may have served as tombs, though there remains some uncertainty. "We are still trying to work out what these things were," he said.

Lidar was first used in Belize in 2009, and has since been deployed at Stonehenge and other sites across Europe. The technology makes it easier to identify excavation sites from the air, and in the case of Cambodia, it saved Evans and his team from having to unnecessarily slash their way through dense, landmine-ridden jungle.

Evans acknowledges that there's still significant work to be done; because lidar only uncovered a portion of Mahendraparvata, its true size remains unknown. "Maybe what we are seeing was not the central part of the city," he explained. "So there is a lot of work to be done to discover the extent of this civilization."