New discoveries in Cambodia by an Australian team from the University of Sydney are another confirmation that lidar will be a game changer for the discipline, just as radio carbon dating was in the 1950s.
Long term readers of this blog will know of my continuing interest in lidar (light detection and ranging) in archaeology (see past post).
The ability to fly over dense forest and build up a 3D picture of what may have once lain beneath is quite phenomenal. Unfortunately it´s also expensive, as the going international rate for a helicopter is around $1000 an hour – rather more than it costs for a few volunteers to scrape away at the dirt on a traditional dig. The Australian team covered some 370 sq kms in Cambodia so the bill must have been eye-watering – but worthwhile.
They uncovered ´the ruins of five other previously unrecorded temples and evidence of ancient canals, dykes and roads´, which they confirmed on the ground after lidar had indicated their presence; all this was in the area of Phnom Kulen, an antecedent of the neighbouring Angkor Wat temple complex in north-western Cambodia. A collateral benefit is that it will provide conservation and tourism work for the dirt-poor locals who were unaware of the temple complexes nearby.
One important point is that while lidar may make completely fresh discoveries, it can also help shade in existing ones – that while, say, all the churches of a medieval town might have survived, now we can trace in all the other buildings and roads to give a more complete picture of the settlement.
Watch this space for more, as they say….