Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

What Killed Angkor?

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

What Killed Angkor?

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The End of Angkor" by Richard Stone, in Science (March 10, 2006).

LOCATED IN MODERN--DAY Cambodia, the once-sprawling city of Angkor was the center of a powerful Khmer kingdom whose rule in Southeast Asia lasted from the ninth to 15th centuries. At its height, Angkor boasted a population of several hundred thousand, an extensive system of reservoirs and waterways, and many elaborate Hindu temples such as the immense, gilded Angkor Wat. Thai armies encroached on the area in the mid-15th century, and by the 16th century the city lay abandoned for reasons unclear, Science's Asia news editor, Richard Stone, writes. Among the theories offered for Angkor's demise are the shift of trade southward toward the sea and the ascension of Theraveda Buddhism in the area.

Thirty years ago French researchers proposed an alternate catalyst, a sharp decline in crop yields possibly caused by the silting of irrigation channels sped by deforestation. Then the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79 and subsequent chaos halted archaeological efforts in Angkor for nearly 20 years. Recent discoveries made by the Australian-led Greater Angkor Project reveal that a combination of bad engineering and geological uplift of the area's riverbeds centuries ago may have hindered the functioning of Angkor's engineered water system and left the city vulnerable to food shortages.

The team used satellite imagery and ground surveys to reveal a city that was far larger than previously thought. …

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