New Research Sheds Some Light on History of Ancient Cambodian City Mahendraparvata

Jan 31, 2014 by Sci-News.com

A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE has uncovered about 400 years of intensive land use around the ancient city of Mahendraparvata, Cambodia.

Buddhist monks in front of the reflection pool at Angkor Wat, the capital of the Khmer Empire. The founding city of the Empire was called Mahendraparvata. Image credit: Sam Garza / CC BY 2.0.

Buddhist monks in front of the reflection pool at Angkor Wat, the capital of the Khmer Empire. The founding city of the Empire was called Mahendraparvata. Image credit: Sam Garza / CC BY 2.0.

Mahendraparvata was founded by King Jayavarman II – the ruler of the Khmer Kingdom – in 802 CE.

Discovered in 2013, the city is located on the plateau Phnom Kulen, around 40 km north of the famous Angkor Wat complex.

The history of Mahendraparvata is based on several written inscriptions, the most well-known being an 11th century CE inscription found in eastern Thailand. The inscription, dated to 1052 CE, tells about a private family serving successive Khmer Kings for 250 years, the first mentioned being King Jayavarman II.

The main historical and geographical significance of the Phnom Kulen plateau lies in its role as Angkor’s source of water.

Now, a team of archaeologists led by Dr Dan Penny from the University of Sydney examined soil cores and vegetation samples from one of the ancient reservoirs in the Phnom Kulen region for evidence of intensive land use during the occupation and abandonment of Mahendraparvata.

They analyzed new data within the context of archeological information about extensive settlement in the area.

The results suggest that the Phnom Kulen plateau was flooded in the mid to late 8th century CE, but the age of the reservoir remains inconclusive.

The results from the soil and vegetation samples suggests that the reservoir operated for about 400 years and that settlements were intensive enough to trigger extensive soil erosion within the reservoir over a span of approximately 250 years beginning in the middle of the 9th century CE.

The last and largest episode of erosion occurred in the late 11th century CE, and this event reflects a change in reservoir operation and management.

The study also suggests a change in water management practices from the 12th century.

This is the first indication that settlement in Mahendraparvata was not only extensive, but also intensive and enduring, with a marked environmental impact, according to the team.

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Penny D et al. 2014. The Environmental Impact of Cambodia’s Ancient City of Mahendraparvata (Phnom Kulen). PLoS ONE 9 (1): e84252; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084252