Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia was much larger and more complex than previously thought, say archaeologists who discovered buried ‘towers’ and remains of a huge structure near the world’s largest religious monument. The team found that the Angkor Wat complex had more components than previously envisaged, and was bounded on its south side by a unique and massive structure.
“This structure, which has dimensions of more than 1500m x 600m, is the most striking discovery associated with Angkor Wat to date. Its function remains unknown and, as yet, it has no known equivalent in the Angkorian world,” said Roland Fletcher, a professor at the University of Sydney.
Researchers found that Angkor Wat includes an entire ensemble of buried ‘towers’ built and demolished during the construction and initial use of the main temple, remains of what is thought might be a shrine used during the construction period.
The areas surrounding Angkor Wat have long been assumed to be sacred precincts or ‘temple-cities’. However, the research has showed evidence of low-density residential occupation in the region, including a grid of roads, ponds and mounds, possibly used by people servicing the temple.
“This challenges our traditional understanding of the social hierarchy of the Angkor Wat community and shows that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been exclusively the preserve of the wealthy or the priestly elite,” said Fletcher. The researchers also discovered that Angkor Wat was fortified with wooden structures sometime late in its history.
“Angkor Wat is the first and only known example of an Angkorian temple being systematically modified for use in a defensive capacity,” Fletcher said. “The available evidence suggests it was a late event in the history of Angkor, either between AD 1297 and 1585, along with other defensive works around Angkor, or perhaps sometime between AD 1585 and the 1630s, representing a final attempt to defend Angkor against the growing influence of (neighbouring city) Ayutthaya,” he added.
“Either date makes the defences of Angkor Wat one of the last major constructions at Angkor and is perhaps indicative of its end,” said Fletcher. The findings were published in the journal Antiquity.