New research casts doubt on the cause of Angkor's collapse



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The ancient city of Angkor, Cambodia. Credit: University of Sydney

A new study from the University of Sydney revealed that the former Cambodian city of Angkor had suffered a gradual decline in occupation rather than a sudden collapse.

Researchers have long debated the causes of the disappearance of Angkor in the 15th century. Historical explanations have emphasized the role of aggressive neighbor states and the abandonment of Angkor in 1431 AD has been presented as a catastrophic demographic collapse.

However, new scientific evidence shows that the intensity of land use in the economic and administrative center of the city has gradually decreased more than 100 years before the supposed collapse, implying a very different end from the city.

Associate Professor Dan Penny of the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney examined drill cores of sediment extracted from the moat surrounding Angkor Thom, the last and largest fortified citadel of Angkor.

"The changes in land use leave revealing traces in sedimentary deposits that can be measured.The measurement of these traces in drill core allows us to reconstruct what people have done in the past. landscape for long periods, "said Associate Professor Penny.

In a new study published in the prestigious PNAS The review, Associate Professor Penny and co-authors show that evidence of forest disturbance, soil erosion, and burning all declined in the early decades of the 14th century, suggesting a long-term decline in land use. the commercial and administrative heart of the ancient city. By the end of the 14th century, the moat was covered with floating marsh vegetation, which indicates that it was no longer serviced.

The results suggest that Angkor's demise was not a catastrophic collapse caused by the Ayutthayan invasion or infrastructure failure, but a gradual demographic shift by the urban elite.

"Our study suggests that the locals did not leave Angkor because the infrastructure failed. The infrastructure failed (or was not maintained or repaired) because the l '. urban elite had already left, "said Associate Professor Penny.


Explore further:
The city of Koh Ker has been occupied for centuries longer than expected

More information:
Dan Penny el al., "The geoarchaeological evidence of Angkor, Cambodia, reveals a gradual decline rather than a catastrophic collapse of the fifteenth century," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1821460116

Journal reference:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Provided by:
University of Sydney

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