Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cambodia: Angkor was a city ahead of its time

The technology for harvesting water that enabled the Khmer to thrive also led to their fall, researchers say.
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 14, 2007
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The ancient Khmer city of Angkor in Cambodia was the largest preindustrial metropolis in the world, with a population near 1 million and an urban sprawl that stretched over an area similar to modern-day Los Angeles, researchers reported Monday.

The city's spread over an area of more than 115 square miles was made possible by a sophisticated technology for managing and harvesting water for use during the dry season -- including diverting a major river through the heart of the city.

But that reliance on water led to the city's collapse in the 1500s as overpopulation and deforestation filled the canals with sediment, overwhelming the city's ability to maintain the system, according to the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The hydraulic system became "not manageable, no matter how many resources were thrown at it," said archeologist Damian Evans of the University of Sydney in Australia, the lead author of the paper.

But during the six centuries that the city thrived, it was unparalleled, particularly because it was one of the very few civilizations that sprang up in a tropical setting, said archeologist Vernon L. Scarborough of the University of Cincinnati, who was not involved in the research.

Just one section of the city, called West Baray, was many times "larger than the entire 9-square-kilometer hillock on which sat Tikal, the largest city in Central America," he said.

"The scale is truly unparalleled," added archeologist William A. Saturno of Boston University, who also was not involved.

"Forest environments are not good ones for civilizations . . . because they require intensively manipulating the environment," he said. "Angkor is the epitome of this, and it is going to be the model for how tropical civilizations are interpreted."

Old and new technologies

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-angkor14aug14,0,7025071.story?coll=la-home-cente


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