Lost city discovered in the forests of Cambodia

An ancient city hidden for centuries beneath dense forest on the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia, has been rediscovered using airborne laser technology.

Lost city discovered in the forests of Cambodia

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 19 June 2013

An ancient city hidden for centuries beneath dense forest on the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia, has been rediscovered using airborne laser technology.

The expedition team has dated the origins of the city, which is very likely to be Mahendraparvata, the capital of the Khmer civilisation, to 802AD.

Forest is among the hardest terrain for archaeologists to work in. Whereas deserts can be mapped in weeks or days, researchers take months or years to painstakingly clear and comb forests, while being plagued by mosquitoes and dangerous animals such as snakes

But archaeology is on the verge of a technological revolution, thanks to light detection and ranging technology (Lidar) – million-dollar machines that are so accurate that they can map thousands of acres through a jungle canopy in just a few hours.

The Archaeology and Development Foundation (ADF), a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2008 to research Phnom Kulen in collaboration with university partners, used Lidar to uncover the city, which has been rumoured to exist for more than a century, after the discovery of nearby temples.

Data gathered by the laser scanners reveal hundreds of undiscovered ancient features. The expedition team followed up with confirmation on the ground, to ensure that the structures were indeed manmade.

The ADF revealed this week that it had discovered a large urban network consistent with an ancient capital city, even older than Cambodia’s famous temple of Angkor Wat. It has massive highways, orientated along the cardinal compass points and extending for miles, linking sacred sites together.

The city has a complex system to collect, store and redistribute water, as well as previously unknown architectural features that may have been gardens.

“With this instrument [Lidar] – bang – all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed, which is just remarkable,” Damian Evans, director of the University of Sydney’s archaeological research centre in Cambodia, told The Age.

It is not the first time that Lidar has helped to make an archaeological breakthrough: researchers in Honduras revealed earlier this year that they had uncovered massive, previously undiscovered settlements in the rainforest.

Questions for discussion or research:

  • What do you think life in 802AD would have been like where we live? Where could you find out more?
  • Is it important to find and uncover lost cities and civilizations? Why/why not?
  • Many artefacts discovered by archaeologists are now displayed in museums that are not in the country the artefacts were found in. Should artefacts remain in their country of origin or should they be placed where most people will see them, regardless of where that might be? Justify your answer.
  • The researchers used lasers to map the area and find the city. What other uses do we have for lasers?

Resources for you

Newspaper Report Writing - Lost City Discovered

  • A step-by-step guide to writing a newspaper article about a lost jungle city that has been re-discovered.

Archaeology: Methods and meanings

  • Ideal for post-16 learners, this introductory lesson with PowerPoint and worksheets gives an overview of archaeology and what being an archaeologist involves.

3D laser scanning: BGS Palaeontological Collections

  • This short movie from British Geological Survey shows pictures and 3D reproductions of a variety of fossils, including Britain’s oldest animal, as well as reconstructions of how they looked in life.

People of the rainforest

  • Explore the harsh realities of living in the rainforest with this presentation, which questions whether local tribes have been mistreated.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

“The further away the spaceship drifts, the more you start to miss the sounds of nature, of rainfall,” Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova said of her historic journey into space 50 years ago this week.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is rumoured to be planning a dip in a nearby lake, US president Barack Obama is charming local teenaged crowds and UK prime minister David Cameron, the host, is simply trying to keep world leaders from scrapping.

Scientists in Singapore have unveiled a new development in "invisibility cloak" technology that is sure to excite children, even the few who are not fascinated by Harry Potter.

Train drivers in Sweden were banned from wearing shorts to keep cool in the hot summer weather – so they decided to wear skirts.

In the news archive index