Drought could have led to ruin of Angkor

  • January 4, 2012
Drought could have led to ruin of Angkor

Mary Beth Day's research into water management in ancient Angkor is published.

The ancient Khmer city of Angkor, site of the world famous Angkor Wat temple, could have collapsed in part due to drought, according to new research carried out by a Gates scholar.

Mary Beth Day [2009], a paleolimnologist who is doing a PhD in Earth Sciences, is one of a team of researchers who have been studying the sophisticated water management system at Angkor, which was first established in the ninth century and was of great regional importance until its collapse in the late 14th to early 15th century.

Previous reasons suggested for its collapse include war and overexploitation of the land. Mary Beth collected sediment samples from across the region by travelling around in a motorised rickshaw. From the samples, she and her colleagues were able to piece together a 1,000-year climate history for the region.

They found that at the time Angkor collapsed, sediment deposit rates dropped significantly, suggesting a dramatic fall in water levels. This led to changes in the ecology of the area and, says Mary Beth, is likely to be a cause of the region’s collapse, although not the only one.

The research was published online earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.It has been carried in The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times.

Picture credit: J Frasse and www.freedigitalphotos.net.

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