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Friday, February 13, 1998 Published at 16:34 GMT


Ancient city discovered in Cambodia
image: [ The radar showed buildings that could not be seen with the eye (Nasa) ]
The radar showed buildings that could not be seen with the eye (Nasa)

A British scientist has found what is thought to be a 10th century city hidden beneath Cambodia most-famous temple.

The lost city was discovered under dense vegetation at the Angkor temple complex by leading British archaeologist Elizabeth Moore using Nasa's latest radar technology.

The civilisation that lived in the city would have preceded the inhabitants of the best known temple at the complex, Angkor Wat, by hundreds of years.

Cambodia's spiritual heart

The Angkor complex originally contained up to 1,000 temples, many of which are partially lost to the thick undergrowth.

Irrigated by a network of reservoirs and canals, the plain had a population of more than a million between the 8th and 13th centuries.

Although Angkor remains the spiritual and cultural heart of Cambodia, much of what formed the basis of the Khmer Empire has since been lost.

Hi-tech search for lost worlds

French adventurers first came across Angkor Wat more than 200 years ago. In 1996, the curiosity of British scientist Elizabeth Moore was raised when she flew over the temple and noticed a raised mound to the side of it.

Using the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar system developed by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr Moore returned to Angkor and managed to locate the hidden ruins of the city.

The data provided from the radar reading also allowed Dr Moore to make highly-detailed maps of what lies beneath the ground.

"The radar data have enabled us to detect a distribution of circular 'prehistoric' mounds and undocumented temples far to the north-west of Angkor," said Dr Moore, Head of the Department of Art & Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

"The site's topography is highlighted by the radar, focusing our attention on previously neglected features, some at the very heart of the city.

"The radar maps not only bring into question traditional concepts of the urban evolution of Angkor, but reveal evidence of temples and earlier civilisation either absent or incorrect on modern topographic maps and in early 20th century archaeological reports," she said.

Dr Anthony Freeman, a radar scientist at JPL who has worked with Dr Moore for the past three years, said radar images allowed archaeologists to see through obstructions on the ground.

"We can see differences in vegetation structure and some features that are obscured by vegetation cover," he said.

The discovery has proved exciting for the scientists and archaeologists alike.

While Nasa are thrilled to find their radar technology can be put to uses they had never designed it for, Dr Moore believes her discovery could radically alter people's understanding of the Angkor civilisations.

"Previous archaeological accounts from 1904 and 1911 note only two temples and make no mention of the distinct circular form of the mound. We found four to six temple remains, including pre-Angkorean structures," she said.

"This suggests occupation of the 12th century site some 300 years earlier, radically changing accepted chronologies of Angkor Wat."

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