Mysterious “dome fields” discovered with LiDAR in Cambodia

Vast fields of dome-shaped earthen mounds were found by archaeologists in 1000-year-old sites in Cambodia. The features are organised into gridded patterns. The scientists are puzzled what these structures were used for. In addition to the dome fields, archaeologists also found mounds shaped into geometric patterns, such as spirals. The discoveries were made near Cambodian temple complexes, that include also Angkor Wat. In 2015 laser scanning equipment attached to low-flying helicopters was used in order to penetrate the thick foliage of the Cambodian jungle.

Image of laser data showing numerous archaeological features (by Live Science)
Image of laser data showing numerous archaeological features near the exit of the east Baray water reservoir at Angkor (by Live Science)

Through a project named Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative it was revealed that sizeable cities often existed within and around these temples, which archaeologists have gradually uncovered since the 1990s.Many of the cities studied were part of the Khmer Empire, stretching across mainland South Asia and centred at the city of Angkor. The airborne scans covered more than 1,910 square kilometres of Cambodia, revealing new information bout the city of Mahendraparvata, which flourished more than 1,000 years ago, in the early years of the Khmer Empire (8th-9th century). Much of that archaeological topography discovered there consisted of grid-like arrangements of mounds and similar dome fields have been found in other parts of Cambodia.

Image of laser data showing numerous archaeological features (by Live Science)
Image of laser data showing numerous archaeological features near the temple complex of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay (by Live Science)

The purpose of these dome fields is unknown. Surface surveys and excavations of these mounds have revealed little of archaeological interest, and they remain among the most enigmatic features of Khmer landscape archaeology. Equally enigmatic are the geometric rectilinear patterns made from earthen embankments and variously described as “coils”, “spirals”, “geoglyphs” or “gardens”. A surprising discovery was also made at the site of Preah Khan where remains of a city, organised in geometric patterns was found. This new airborne laser data clearly shows an urban layout within the central moat of the site, which is surrounded by an extended, less-organized urban grid.

Image of laser data showing numerous archaeological features (by Live Science)
Image of laser data showing numerous archaeological features of an urban area both within and outside the moat of Preah Khan temple complex of Kompong Svay (by Live Science)

(after Live Science)

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