This 1.5-hour public lecture provided an overview of settlements and increasing complexity from the Neolithic through Iron ages which led to urbanization approximately 2000 years ago at Angkor Borei during the early Funan period.
Mystery City: Unearthing the 10th Century Angkorian Capital of Koh Ker
Friday, 7 October 2016 – The Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre and the Asian Civilisations Museum co-organised a public lecture by Dr Kyle Latinis, Visiting Fellow at Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The lecture was delivered at the Asian Civilisations Museum.
Dr Latinis was introduced to the audience by Dr Stephen Murphy, Curator for Southeast Asia at the Asian Civilisations Museum. In 2015, Dr Latinis led an excavation campaign cum field school training for students to the archaeological site of Koh Ker, in northern Cambodia, about 100 km northeast of Siem Reap. This lecture introduced the history of settlement and urbanization in Cambodia leading up to Koh Ker. The excavation results including the much anticipated radiocarbon dates were then presented.
Dr Latinis presenting an overview of settlements and increasing complexity from the Neolithic through Iron ages which led to urbanization approximately 2000 years ago at Angkor Borei during the early Funan period (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
Little is known of Koh Ker. It is an enigmatic ancient city with a popular narrative of being a rouge, mysterious Angkorian capital for a brief period in history – quickly formed and just as quickly abandoned in the remote jungles east of Angkor. Its location and orientation are unique. Dr Latinis argued that the highly complex and urbanised 10th century Angkorian city at Koh Ker, developed by King Jayavarman IV, was more extensive and enduring than prevailing historic models have suggested. Pottery remains dating from as early as the Funan period (1st-6th centuries) to the post-Angkor period (15th-19th centuries) are present throughout the site, suggesting over a 1000 years of occupation and use. The consistent 7th to 8th century radiocarbon dates recovered from earlier occupational levels also corroborate evidence of earlier settlement – contemporary with the famed Chenla period city, Sambor Prei Kuk. In fact, some of the pottery styles are identical.
However, Koh Ker likely witnessed oscillating periods of higher and lower popularity and socio-economic importance. Indeed, Koh Ker’s pinnacle was during the early 10th century when the Angkorian capital shifted to Koh Ker. It is defined by a commensurate construction boom period represented by a repurposing of settlement and activity in the urban core and massive architectural and landscape transformations.
The presentation began with an overview of settlements and increasing complexity from the Neolithic through Iron ages which led to urbanization approximately 2000 years ago at Angkor Borei during the early Funan period. Size and scale increased continuously through the Chenla and Angkorian periods up to the 14th century. As little archaeological excavation and research in Koh Ker has been done, the approach enabled the audience to appreciate Koh Ker’s urban achievements in the context of Khmer urbanisation, the evolution of monumental architecture and water works in the longue durée.
Dr Latinis also shared how archaeology has been revolutionised by the use of LIDAR. Laser-radar remote sensing and imaging is helping archaeologists to identify human transformations of the landscape that are otherwise hidden beneath forest and dense overgrowth. These include buildings, terraces, roads, infrastructure, field systems and massive water features such as one of the largest ancient dams ever built. LIDAR technology not only allows archaeologists to identify and zoom in on specific areas, it also maps out the extent, complexity and intensity of landscape modifications. LIDAR images of the site in Koh Ker showed evidence of patterned habitation features, infrastructural and agricultural systems, as well as dam and reservoir systems – the largest of which witnessed catastrophic failures in antiquity of which some researchers speculate led to the quick demise of Koh Ker as a socio-political capital.
Both Dr Murphy and Dr Latinis addressing queries from participants after the lecture (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
This presentation represents a preliminary analysis of the finds so far, and gives a glimpse of what could turn out to be a highly sophisticated and extensive city, which until then, will remain a mystery.
About 100 participants attended the 90 minute public lecture.
Participants at the lecture (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)